Gay legal group remains optimistic over marriage

PinkNews logo with white background and rainbow corners

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) legal group Lambda Legal insists it is not “discouraged” by Washington State’s rejection of a gay marriage law.

The state’s Supreme Court upheld the Defence of Marriage Act by a 5-4 vote yesterday, arguing that it “preserves the institution of marriage and the healthy families and children it promotes.”

Jennifer Pizer, senior counsel at Lambda Legal and the lead attorney on the case, said: “We are disappointed but not discouraged, this is a civil rights movement and time is on our side.

“In the struggle between fairness and discrimination, fairness has won consistently in America. History has shown that in cases of this magnitude the opinions of the dissenting justices later become the law of the land.”

In August 2004, King County Superior Court Judge William Downing ruled that the Washington State Constitution guarantees basic rights to lesbian and gay people and that those rights are violated by a state law prohibiting same-sex couples from marrying.

The ruling said the state Constitution requires same-sex couples to have equal access to marriage, and that the couples represented by Lambda Legal and the Northwest Women’s Law Center must be given marriage licenses. One month later, a court in Thurston County ruled similarly in the Castle case. Both decisions were appealed to the Washington State Supreme Court.

“While this was certainly not the result we were looking for it must be put into perspective. In 1948, when the California Supreme Court became the first state Supreme Court in the nation to strike down laws banning interracial marriages (which were on the books in 30 states at the time), lawsuits challenging such laws in 14 states had been unsuccessful (in Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Indiana, Missouri, Montana, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia).

“Despite those setbacks, people whose rights were trampled did not give up. They pressed on to change public opinion, to secure legislative repeal of those laws to win in California and ultimately, 19 years later, to win before the U.S. Supreme Court,”

Ms Pizer said.

Lambda Legal and the Northwest Women’s Law Centre filed the Washington marriage lawsuit in March 2004 on behalf of same-sex couples who were denied marriage licenses in King County.

The groups argued that denying marriage to same-sex couples violates the state constitution’s guarantees of equality, liberty and privacy for all Washingtonians.

According to the most recent US Census, Washington is home to nearly 16,000 same-sex couples, roughly one quarter of whom are raising children. They reside in every county of the state, work in every sector of the state’s economy and represent the full racial and ethnic diversity of Washington.

Earlier this month, oral argument was heard in the intermediate appellate court in California for Lambda Legal’s lawsuit (with lead-counsel National Centre for Lesbian Rights and co counsel ACLU) seeking marriage for same-sex couples in that state.

On July 6, New York’s highest court ruled that excluding same-sex couples from marriage does not violate that state’s constitution. Lambda Legal is awaiting a decision from the New Jersey Supreme Court in its marriage equality lawsuit there, and Lambda Legal’s lawsuit seeking marriage for same-sex couples in Iowa is at the trial court level.

In May 2004, Massachusetts became the first state in the nation to open marriage to same-sex couples. A Boston Globe poll taken in March 2005 found that 56% of people in Massachusetts now favour marriage for same-sex couples.

This percentage is nearly a mirror image of the 53% of people in the Bay State who had opposed such marriages just a year earlier in February 2004, before couples of the same sex could legally wed there. Spain, Canada, Belgium and the Netherlands stopped denying marriage to same-sex couples nationwide, with South Africa scheduled to follow by the end of 2006.