Washington Supreme Court Fails to Uphold Marriage Equality

News Release: 
Friday, November 20, 2009

Update: The court has granted the plaintiff groups until Aug. 29 to decide whether to file a motion for reconsideration of the ruling.

Reversing rulings in favor of marriage equality by two state courts, the Washington Supreme Court today found that the state’s ban on marriage by same-sex couples does not violate the state constitution. In the appeal of cases brought by 19 couples who wish to marry, the court upheld the state’s Defense of Marriage Act of 1998 that defines marriage as between one man and one woman.

Two cases were decided today – couples in the Castle v. State case are represented by attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington and couples in the Andersen v. King County case are represented by attorneys from Northwest Women's Law Center and Lambda Legal. Oral argument in the case was heard in March 2005.

“We are disappointed that the court did not recognize its vital role of ensuring fundamental equality for all. Same-sex couples fall in love, make commitments, and raise children. They need the many protections for their families that marriage provides. Marriage equality strengthens our communities,” said Kathleen Taylor, executive director of the ACLU of Washington. “Today’s ruling is not the end of the story. History teaches us that achieving social justice is a long-term effort. The ACLU will continue to work in the Legislature and the courts to gain full equality for lesbian and gay couples,” added Taylor.
The ACLU brought its suit on behalf of 11 same-sex couples from around the state who wish to marry in Washington or to now have their marriage recognized under Washington laws. Plaintiffs include a police officer, a firefighter, a banker, a nurse, a retired judge, a college professor, a business executive, and others. They reside in communities from Seattle to Spokane and from Port Townsend to Hoquiam.

Current state laws provide hundreds of benefits to married couples that are not available to same-sex couples. Among these are community property rights; access to family court; access during health care emergencies and the ability to participate in health care decisions; and survivor benefits.    

"The right to marry involves equal rights for all loving, committed spouses. My longtime partner has a rare form of cancer and sometimes has gone to the hospital. I had hoped to obtain the legal protections of marriage to speak and act on behalf of my partner when he needs me most," said Curtis Crawford, a plaintiff represented by the ACLU of Washington.

The decision came in the state’s appeal of two lower-court rulings upholding marriage equality. In Castle v. State, Thurston County Superior Court Judge Richard Hicks in September 2004 found that legal barriers to marriage for same-sex couples violate the state constitution’s guarantee of equal treatment for all citizens. In his ruling, Judge Hicks rebuffed arguments that same-sex marriage destabilizes the family, noting that same-sex couples have already been found to serve as capable foster and adoptive parents. In Andersen v. King County, King County Superior Court Judge William Downing in April 2004 also ruled that Washington’s law limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples violates the state constitution.

The court’s ruling came by a 5-4 margin. In her dissent, Justice Bobbe Bridge wrote, “Rather than protecting children, the DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) harms them.” In another dissent, Justice Mary Fairhurst said that the plurality and concurring options "... condone blatant discrimination against Washington's gay and lesbian citizens in the name of encouraging procreation, marriage for individuals in relationships that result in children, and the raising of children in homes headed by opposite-sex parents, while ignoring the fact that denying same-sex couples the right to marry has no prospect of furthering any of those interests."

Representing the 11 couples for the ACLU are Paul Lawrence, Matthew Segal, and Amit Ranade of the law firm Preston Gates & Ellis; Karolyn Hicks of the firm Stokes Lawrence; Roger Leishman of the firm Davis Wright Tremaine; and ACLU-WA staff attorney Aaron Caplan.