Press

Task Force: Washington Supreme Court marriage ruling is a strike against fairness and equality

Date: 
July 27, 2006

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"We applaud the tremendous courage of the plaintiffs and their families and our organizational allies in Washington who have worked so hard to bring us closer to equality." – Matt Foreman, Executive Director, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force

WASHINGTON, July 27 – Washington state's highest court upheld the state's ban on same-sex marriage yesterday in a 5-4 ruling. Nineteen same-sex couples had challenged the constitutionality of Washington's Defense of Marriage Act, a law passed by state lawmakers in 1998 that restricted marriage to opposite-sex couples.

"We applaud the tremendous courage of the 19 plaintiff couples and their families and our organizational allies in Washington who have worked so hard to bring us closer to equality, said Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. "These couples and the organizations that represented them – specifically the Northwest Women's Law Center, Lambda Legal and the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington – are to be lauded for their steadfast commitment to achieving equality for our community."

In yesterday's majority opinion, Justice Barbara Madsen wrote, "The Legislature was entitled to believe that limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples furthers procreation, essential to the survival of the human race and furthers the well-being of children by encouraging families where children are reared in homes headed by children's biological parents."

In writing a dissenting opinion, Justice Mary Fairhurst said the majority conclusion condones "blatant discrimination against Washington's gay and lesbian citizens in the name of encouraging procreation, marriage for individuals in relationships that result in children... while ignoring the fact that denying same-sex couples the right to marry has no prospect of furthering any of those interests."

"Washington state's constitutional provisions plainly guarantee equality and equal access to state-sanctioned privileges and fundamental rights like marriage. That the court's majority opinion maintains these provisions do not require full marriage equality for same-sex couples is incomprehensible," said Eleanor Acheson, the Task Force's director of Public Policy and Government Affairs.

"Even with the guidance of the analysis of New York Court of Appeals Chief Judge Kaye's dissent in New York's recent marriage decision, as well as Justice Fairhurst's sound reasoning, the Washington Supreme Court majority, like their New York counterparts, committed fundamental blunders," Acheson continued. "For example, they asked whether limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples is rational, when they should have asked, 'Is excluding same-sex couples from marriage rational?' And they characterized the 'fundamental right' question as a right to same-sex marriage rather than the right to marry the person of one's choice.

In addition, they embraced a raft of erroneous and archaic notions about sexual orientation, procreation and marriage itself. Such an approach – and the subsequent result – is profoundly disheartening."

Now supporters of marriage equality in Washington state will set their sights on the Legislature.

"In Washington state, families headed by lesbian and gay couples lack the critical protections afforded by marriage. Our children, elderly couples and surviving partners will remain vulnerable and all gays will continue to be second-class citizens until marriage equality," said Barbara Green, interim executive director of Equal Rights Washington (ERW), a Task Force capacity building partner. She added ERW will now turn its attention to changing the law through the state Legislature.

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The mission of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is to build the political power of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community from the ground up. We do this by training activists, organizing broad-based campaigns to defeat anti-LGBT referenda and advance pro-LGBT legislation, and by building the organizational capacity of our movement. Our Policy Institute, the movement’s premier think tank, provides research and policy analysis to support the struggle for complete equality and to counter right-wing lies. As part of a broader social justice movement, we work to create a nation that respects the diversity of human expression and identity and creates opportunity for all. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., we also have offices in New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis and Cambridge.