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.