Judge upholds recognition of same-sex couples in Seattle
A judge has dismissed a lawsuit against Seattle mayor Greg Nickels because of his recognition of same-sex marriages from other states. Judge Bruce Hilyer ruled on May 21 that the executive order Nickels signed in March does not conflict with state law and does not violate the city charter. Nickels ordered the city to recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere and ordered city departments to extend benefits to city employees in such marriages.
Since 1989, Seattle has offered its employees in registered domestic-partner relationships the same benefits it offers opposite-sex couples. In April the Seattle city council unanimously approved legislation putting part of the mayor's order into law.
The antigay American Family Association Center for Law & Policy of Tupelo, Miss., and Liberty Counsel of Longwood, Fla., sued on behalf of a group of area residents. They said they will likely appeal the decision. Pacific Justice Institute of California also sued earlier on behalf of 11 King County residents. The two cases were later consolidated. Together they claimed that Washington laws defining marriage as being between a man and a woman prohibit employers, such as the city of Seattle, from recognizing same-sex marriages for the purpose of offering couples benefits or for any other purpose.
Randy Leskovar, a local pastor and one of the plaintiffs, said the mayor's action clearly defied state law. "This is a very classic example of an activist judge making law rather than interpreting it," Leskovar told the Seattle Times.
Meanwhile, in a statement made on Sunday, Nickels said, "The court's decision is a great contribution to equality and family values."
In oral arguments before Hilyer two weeks ago the plaintiffs said the city shouldn't be barred from offering benefits to same-sex couples. They said the scenario is the same as extending benefits to first cousins whose marriage, while legal in some states, is forbidden here. Seattle attorneys argued that the city, as an employer, is simply recognizing who is eligible for benefits. Its recognition of same-sex marriages does not attempt to derail the state's authority to regulate such relationships, the city contended.
Hilyer at that time said the plaintiffs—in their effort to block Nickels's action—had not proved their case could succeed on the grounds that they brought forth. In this week's ruling he said the delegation of employee benefits is a matter of local concern.