Lawsuit challenges recognition of same-sex marriages in Seattle
March 13 2004 12:00 AM ET
A Mississippi family advocacy group has filed a lawsuit in King County, Wash., superior court on behalf of a Seattle resident seeking to block Mayor Greg Nickels from recognizing the unions of gay city employees who marry elsewhere. The Tupelo, Miss.-based American Family Association, representing Randall Leskovar, asked Judge James Doerty on Thursday to issue an order preventing the city from implementing the executive order the mayor signed earlier this week, said Brian Fahling, the attorney who filed the papers. "A renegade mayor can do whatever he wants until he gets shut down by the law," Fahling said. "This mayor has defied the express will of the people." Doerty did not indicate when he would make a ruling, according to Fahling and Marianne Bichsel, the mayor's spokeswoman.
On Monday, Nickels signed an executive order requiring city departments to begin recognizing the unions of gay employees who get married elsewhere, giving them the same benefits as heterosexual couples who work for the city. Bichsel said Thursday's lawsuit came as no surprise. "This is not unexpected, because we've known all along this issue is going to be decided in the courts," Bichsel said Thursday. The basic disagreement, she said, is whether the state's 1998 Defense of Marriage Act violates provisions in the state and federal constitutions that guarantee equal protection under the law. City attorney Tom Carr told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that Nickels did nothing wrong. "The city can extend whatever benefits it wants to its employees, and that's what the mayor's doing," Carr said. "That's a lot different than marrying people. If he could, I think he would, but he can't."
Six same-sex couples filed suit in King County superior court on Monday, seeking to overturn the state's Defense of Marriage Act, which made Washington one of 39 states defining marriage as the union of a man and woman. They cited the 1972 Equal Rights Amendment to the state constitution, which demands that no law can confer rights on certain classes of citizens without applying to all citizens. Nickels doesn't have the authority to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, as the mayor of San Francisco did, because marriage licenses are the jurisdiction of county officials in Washington. Ron Sims, the executive of King County, which includes Seattle, said he won't begin issuing marriage licenses to gay couples because it is not his right to decide which laws to enforce. He welcomed the couples' legal action, saying current laws must be changed to ensure equal protection when it comes to marriage.
The Pacific Justice Institute, a conservative legal organization based in Citrus Heights, Calif., said it expected to file its own lawsuit Friday seeking to block Seattle's new policy. "We will pursue any city, any mayor who decides to disobey the law of the land and the constitution of their respective state," Brad Dacus, president of the group, said Thursday.