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gay marriage activists undeterred by Oregon setback

Washington State
gay marriage activists undeterred by Oregon setback

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Same-sex couples in Washington State are undaunted by the Oregon supreme court's decision to nullify marriage licenses issued in that state last year to thousands of gay couples. Although disappointed by Thursday's ruling, gay couples currently challenging the constitutionality of Washington's 1998 Defense of Marriage Act--which limits marriage to heterosexual couples--are optimistic the Oregon decision will have little bearing on their case. "I feel very sad for the couples who were married in Oregon or wish to be married in Oregon," said Leslie Christian. She and her partner, Heather Andersen, are among 19 couples who have challenged Washington State's same-sex marriage ban. "I continue to be optimistic," said Christian, of Seattle. "My hope is that people who are committed to marriage equality see this as just one more reason we need to keep working to achieve equal protection and equal responsibility." "We're trying to maintain a good humor about this issue," said Brenda Bauer. She and her partner, Celia Castle, are also plaintiffs in the Washington case being considered by the state supreme court. The couple has two daughters. "We see this as an issue that will be resolved in our children's lifetimes." Bauer and Castle, who live in south Seattle, were among nearly 3,000 same-sex couples who received marriage licenses last year in Oregon's Multnomah County. They were married by a judge there. The Oregon supreme court ruled Thursday that Multnomah County had no authority to issue the licenses because of a state law that clearly limits marriage to heterosexual couples. The court also noted that Oregon voters amended their state constitution last November to specify that marriage is between a man and a woman, ending any constitutional argument. The ruling left open the possibility for the Oregon legislature to recognize civil unions. Bauer said that gesture is not good enough because civil unions are not comprehensive and differ among states. "There's too many different ways that marriage has been incorporated into the fabric of our laws," she said. "There's no substitute." Like Christian, Bauer doubts the Oregon decision will affect the Washington case. "It's a completely different legal situation," she said. While Oregon amended its constitution to deal with the question, Washington's constitution doesn't contain such a provision. It does require that individuals be treated equally under the law. Washington's constitution is an equality guarantee for everyone, including lesbians and gay men and their families, said Jennifer Pizer, a senior attorney with the gay rights group Lambda Legal who is cocounsel for the 38 Washington plaintiffs. "Our case is about what the constitution requires the state to do," she said. Unlike Oregon, she noted, there's no issue about whether local government officials may act to treat same-sex couples equally before the litigation has been completed. Still, the Oregon court decision is heartbreaking, Pizer said. "The path toward equal treatment for gay and lesbian couples is a long one. Days like today make us heartsick for the couples and their families," she said. (AP)

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