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Governor Signs Historic Marriage Equality Law

Washington Becomes the Seventh State to Allow Same-Sex Couples to Marry

The ACLU of Washington today hailed the signing of a bill granting lesbian and gay couples in the state the freedom to marry as a historic step towards fairness for families.

“Valentine’s Day is coming a day early this year,” said Kathleen Taylor, executive director of the ACLU of Washington. “We're so proud to have Washington join the ranks of states extending the freedom to marry to same-sex couples. More and more people are realizing that civil marriage should be available to and shared by all loving, committed couples."

The passage of the marriage equality bill culminates many years of effort. The ACLU-WA first filed a lawsuit seeking civil marriage for same-sex couples in 1974, representing John Singer and Paul Barwick when they sought to obtain a marriage license in Washington state. Unfortunately, the state court of appeals sided with the state and rejected them (in Singer v. Hara).

In the succeeding years, much changed in both our culture and law. In 2004, 11 same-sex couples from around the state joined with the ACLU-WA again to seek marriage (in Castle v. State).  Plaintiffs included a police officer, a firefighter, a banker, a nurse, a retired judge, a college professor, a business executive, and others.

The trial court found the law barring same-sex couples from civil marriage violated the state constitution’s guarantee of equal protection for all people. Thurston County Superior Court Judge Richard Hicks noted that granting marriage equality to same-sex couples strengthens our community. He said, “Our fundamental principle is that we share the freedom to live with and respect each other and share the same privileges or immunities. We need each other.”  Sadly, in the appeal of this decision (consolidated with another suit filed by Lambda Legal and the Northwest Women’s Law Center) the Washington Supreme Court – in a 5-4 ruling – rejected marriage equality.

Efforts for equality went forward in other arenas, and the state legislature soon embarked on a journey toward full acceptance of lesbian and gay relationships. In 2007 it passed a domestic partnership law which provided hospital visitation rights, the ability to authorize autopsies and organ donations, and inheritance rights when there is no will.  In 2009, legislators passed and voters statewide later upheld a bill that expanded those rights to include all the rights and responsibilities that opposite-sex couples have – the "everything-but-marriage” bill. 

With the enactment of the marriage bill, Washington’s elected officials now have recognized that the relationships of same-sex couples should have the full respect of state law.

Six other states plus Washington, D.C. allow same-sex couples to marry, three other states recognize marriages of same-sex couples performed elsewhere, nine states have full domestic partnerships or civil unions, and three more states have more limited domestic partnership registries.  

The ACLU is working with other organizations to secure the freedom to marry across the country, including passing a marriage bill in Maryland, passing a voter initiative in Maine that would allow same-sex couples to marry and defeating proposed anti-marriage amendments in Minnesota and North Carolina. The ACLU is also seeking domestic partnership protections in Montana, Missouri and Alaska.