Washington Strikes Down Defense of Marriage Act

Thu. August 5, 2004 12:00 AM

Seattle, WA - In an historic decision, a Washington superior court ruled today that prohibiting same-sex couples from marrying violates the Washington state constitution.

The ruling strikes down as unconstitutional the state's Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman. The law was enacted by state lawmakers in 1998 over the veto of then Governor Gary Locke. The court today held that the Washington State Constitution requires same-sex couples have access to marriage, and that the 1998 law violates that guarantee. Like the Massachusetts high court opinion last February, the Washington court held that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Washingtonians are constitutionally entitled to full marriage equality.

Lambda Legal and the Northwest Women's Law Center initiated the lawsuit four months ago on behalf of same-sex couples who were denied marriage licenses in King's County. Six state legislators, a wide variety of religious organizations and several civil rights groups filed friend-of-the-court briefs supporting the right of same-sex couples to marry in Washington. The case is the first of its kind in Washington since the Massachusetts high court ruled that same-sex couples are entitled to full marriage under the Massachusetts state constitution. The case is unlike the Massachusetts case, however, in that same-sex couples in Massachusetts did not face an explicit state statutory ban on same-sex marriage.

Attorneys for the state are expected to appeal ruling to the state Supreme Court which is expected to hear arguments on an expedited basis.