Lawmakers denied intervention in Washington gay marriage case

BY admin

July 19 2004 11:00 PM ET

A Washington State judge has rejected a request by 22 Republican lawmakers to intervene in a case challenging the state law defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman. But superior court judge Richard Hicks gave them permission on Friday to submit a short friend-of-the-court brief stating their position in the case, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of gay couples. Hicks said allowing the seven state senators and 15 representatives to enter the case now as a party to the lawsuit would be disruptive. That "train has left the station," Hicks said of the case, filed in April and
set for a September 2 hearing. "This is not the legislature seeking to intervene but certain legislators who may [subscribe] to a certain point of view," he said. "If I open this door, there will most certainly be others seeking to balance the table."

"We believe we have an interest and an argument that need to be heard in this case," said the legislators' Seattle attorney, Steven O'Ban, whose fees are being covered by the Alliance Defense Fund, an antigay Christian legal group defending "traditional marriage" nationwide. The lawmakers are acting as private citizens. They sought to intervene due to concerns about whether state attorney general Christine Gregoire would defend the state's Defense of Marriage Act to their satisfaction. In a March 10 letter to legislators, Gregoire said that while her office would defend the law, it would not present religious and moral arguments. She recommended lawmakers hire their own attorneys and intervene if they wanted those matters aired.

In the 15-page filing Hicks allowed that the legislators will not have the same impact as arguments in open court, which is permitted for interveners. The brief is due August 5. Matthew Segal, a Seattle-area attorney working with the ACLU on the Thurston County case, argued that legislators acting as individuals have no more standing than any other citizens. "We believe the attorney general will do more than an adequate job defending the case," he said.

The lawsuit, filed by the ACLU this spring on behalf of gay couples around the state, is the second this year challenging the law's constitutionality. In March several King County gay couples sued county executive Ron Sims after they were denied marriage licenses. Eventually, the state and King County cases will reach the state supreme court, where they will likely be consolidated. Hicks's ruling came five weeks after King County superior court judge William Downing allowed two Republican lawmakers and a group of evangelical pastors--also represented by O'Ban--to intervene in the King County case. In court Friday, O'Ban said his request came late because his clients had hoped to persuade legislative leaders to take Gregoire's recommendation and hire their own attorney. When the leadership did not respond, he said, Rep. Gigi Talcott (R-Tacoma) and Sen. Val Stevens (R-Arlington), who won intervener status in the King County case, urged colleagues to join them in making a similar pitch here.

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