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Washington state awaits Supreme Court ‘gay marriage’ decision

OLYMPIA, Wash. (BP)–Homosexual activists, on the defensive since the November election, could receive a boost in coming days when the Washington state Supreme Court hands down a much-anticipated “gay marriage” decision.

The high court heard a case in early March asking it to strike down Washington’s marriage laws and legalize “gay marriage.” It is expected to issue its ruling any week now.

A decision legalizing “gay marriage” would put Washington alongside Massachusetts as the only states to grant marriage licenses to homosexual couples, and would help homosexual activists regain some of the momentum they lost last November when President Bush was re-elected and 11 states passed constitutional amendments banning “gay marriage.”

Decisions generally are handed down by the Washington state Supreme Court on Thursdays.

“I think the gay marriage movement is kind of at a crossroads, as to whether they’re going to push for same-sex marriage or they’re going to settle for civil unions for the time being,” Steven O’Ban, an attorney with the conservative legal group Alliance Defense Fund, told Baptist Press. O’Ban argued before the court in March. “If they get gay marriage in Washington, I think it could rekindle that fire for same-sex marriage [nationwide].”

Unlike California, Massachusetts and other states, Washington has no law allowing citizens to gather petitions and place constitutional amendments before voters. Because of that, a marriage amendment is in the hands of the legislature, which thus far has not been receptive to the idea. Democrats control both chambers.

In addition, Democratic Gov. Christine Gregoire is on record as supporting homosexual causes. Last year she was quoted as saying: “While I do not believe that Washington state is ready to support gay marriage, I do believe we need to provide legal protection to same-sex couples.” Conservatives do have an ally in Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna, who is on record as opposing “gay marriage.”

The court has nine justices. O’Ban believes the decision will be 5-4, one way or the other.

Massachusetts last year became the first state to legalize “gay marriage,” thanks to a landmark ruling by its highest court. The Bay State had no law banning “gay marriage.” Washington, though, does. Washington state legislators passed a “defense of marriage” law in 1998 explicitly banning “gay marriage.” More than a dozen homosexual couples challenged the law in separate lawsuits last year, and two lower court judges subsequently sided with them in finding the law violates the Washington state constitution. The intermediate court — the Superior Court — declined to issue a decision on appeal, sending the case to the Washington state Supreme Court, where oral arguments were heard March 8.

A legal victory for conservatives would be significant, coming in such a liberal state. But a victory for homosexual activists would be just as important, giving them “gay marriage” victories on both coasts and building their case for an eventual federal lawsuit that could end up before the U.S. Supreme Court. Such a federal suit could result in “gay marriage” in all 50 states.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the homosexual group Lambda Legal are involved in the Washington state suit.

The impact of “gay marriage” in Massachusetts has been somewhat limited nationwide because of a 1913 law that prevents couples from receiving a marriage license if their home state wouldn’t recognize it. Because no other state recognizes “gay marriage,” only in-staters can get “married.” Washington state, though, has no such law.

“So, if the Supreme Court legalizes same-sex marriage,” O’Ban said, “it could very well become the magnet for gay couples around the country to come and get married and take their marriages back to their states and file lawsuits demanding that their state recognize their marriage under the full faith and credit clause of the U.S. Constitution.”

A legal win for homosexual activists also might renew the movement to pass constitutional marriage amendments in other states and also to pass a marriage amendment at the federal level.

Many state legislators have opposed marriage amendments on the grounds that the laws already on the books are sufficient. But a pro-“gay marriage” ruling in Washington — which, after all, had such a law — would weaken anti-amendment arguments.

Conservatives, though, note that even state marriage amendments are not safe from federal courts. In May a federal judge struck down Nebraska’s marriage amendment.

Last fall, after seeing 11 states pass marriage amendments on Election Day, Matt Foreman of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force told the Associated Press: “This issue is going to be resolved by the U.S. Supreme Court, and it’s not going to give a [expletive] what these state constitutions say.”

A federal marriage amendment, conservatives say, is the only permanent solution.

Even though all eyes are on the Washington court expecting a decision, it could choose to wait until this fall to issue a ruling. Massachusetts’ court issued its decision in November even though it heard the case in March.

Cases seeking “gay marriage” legalization are also pending in Connecticut, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, California, Oklahoma and Florida.
For more information about the national debate over “gay marriage,” visit http://www.bpnews.net/samesexmarriage

    About the Author

  • Michael Foust