Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

BREAKING: State Supreme Court rules against marriage equality

In a highly anticipated ruling, the Washington State Supreme Court today ended months of speculation by political observers in issuing its decision in a landmark case, Andersen v. King County. The court upheld the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), ruling against marriage equality. The decision was 5-4.

From the majority opinion, written by Justice Madsen:
The two cases before us require us to decide whether the legislature has the power to limit marriage in Washington State to opposite-sex couples. The state constitution and controlling case law compel us to answer "yes," and we therefore reverse the trial courts.

In reaching this conclusion, we have engaged in an exhaustive constitutional inquiry and have deferred to the legislative branch as required by our tri-partite form of government. Our decision accords with the substantial weight of authority from courts considering similar constitutional claims. We see no reason, however, why the legislature or the people acting through the initiative process would be foreclosed from extending the right to marry to gay and lesbian couples in Washington. It is important to note that the court's role is limited to determining the constitutionality of DOMA and that our decision is not based on an independent determination of what we believe the law should be.
Here's a nice excerpt from the dissenting opinion written by Justice Fairhurst:

Contrary to the plurality’s discussion, this case does not present the issue of whether allowing opposite-sex couples the right to marry is rationally related to the State’s supposed interests in encouraging procreation, marriage for relationships that result in children, and traditional child rearing… DOMA in no way affects the right of opposite-sex couples to marry—the only intent and effect of DOMA was to explicitly deny same-sex couples the right to marry. Therefore, the question we are called upon to ask and answer here, which the plurality fails to do, is how excluding committed same-sex couples from the rights of civil marriage furthers any of the interests that the State has put forth. Or, put another way, would giving same-sex couples the same right that opposite-sex couples enjoy injure the State’s interest in procreation and healthy child rearing?
Justices voting in the majority: Alexander, Madsen, Sanders, Johnson, Johnson. Voting in the minority were: Bridge, Owens, Fairhurst, Chambers. There are six opinions. One is the majority authored by Madsen; then there are two concurring opinions and three dissents, one of which was authored by Fairhurst.

No wonder the ruling took so long.

Governor Christine Gregoire's reaction? "First and foremost, I am asking for all Washingtonians to respect their fellow citizens. The Supreme Court has ruled and we must accept their decision whether we agree with it or not." She's scheduled a press conference for later today.

UPDATE: Gregoire has issued a more extensive statement. Excerpt:
As to my personal beliefs, Mike and I received the sacrament of marriage in the Catholic faith. State government provided us with certain rights and responsibilities, but the state did not marry us.

I believe the state should provide these same rights and responsibilities to all citizens. I also believe the sacrament of marriage is between two people and their faith; it is not the business of the state.
King County Executive Ron Sims reacted unhappily. "This is an unwise decision. To my mind, it is reminiscent of Plessy v. Ferguson. Separate but equal was once the law of the land too, but eventually Plessy was overturned. If the legislature does not make changes first, I firmly believe that a future court will take up this issue again. And on that day, a wiser and more enlightened generation will overturn this ruling."

AMERCIABlog reacts:
...this "legalize marriage" court strategy looks increasingly like a runaway train, out of our control and stealing all the oxygen from the good work that's been done over the past decade on job discrimination and so much more. You pick your battles strategically. (Well, you do if you want to win, and have any political sense.)

No one is saying we roll over and play dead. But I am saying that we only have so much time and so much money - we need to use those limited assets wisely. And blowing the entire wad on marriage strikes me as foolish and counterproductive. Someone in the community with some influence needs to stand up and say "enough already," and get our agenda back.
UPDATE: State Democratic Chair Dwight Pelz has weighed in:
Washington State Democrats are deeply disappointed with this morning’s Supreme Court decision. As stated in our platform, we believe:

That the state should not interfere with couples who choose to marry and share fully and equally in the rights, responsibilities and commitment of civil marriage, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

The Defense of Marriage Act clearly constitutes such interference and blatantly discriminates against gay and lesbian Washingtonians.

While this decision constitutes a substantial disappointment, we are encouraged by Justice Alexander’s concurrence in which he states that nothing in the opinion “should be read as casting doubt on the right of the legislature or the people to broaden the marriage act or provide other forms of civil union if that is their will.

More than ever, Democrats will continue the fight and redouble our efforts to ensure all Washingtonians that choose to enter into committed relationships are able to share fully and equally in the same rights and responsibilities under the law.
There will be numerous press conferences and other events scheduled throughout the day in reaction to the ruling. I may post additional updates later.

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