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GOP leaders:
Washington State court shouldn't decide same-sex marriage
issue

GOP leaders:
Washington State court shouldn't decide same-sex marriage
issue

Lawmakers, not the state supreme court, should have the last word on Washington State's same-sex marriage ban, top Republican legislators say. "We believe that the courts don't have the right to go in and change law that the legislature has passed," Rep. Mike Armstrong said Thursday. The court is considering a closely watched challenge to the state's 1998 same-sex marriage ban and could overturn the legislation. But if justices do void the law, they should leave any new remedies to the legislature, house and senate GOP leaders said at a meeting where they unveiled their 2006 legislative agenda. "If they choose to override what the legislature does, we think it should come back to the legislature--to us who represent the citizens of the state--to act on it again," Armstrong said. Washington's so-called Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as being the union of one man and one woman, passed in 1998 with bipartisan support after a veto from then-governor Gary Locke. "We already defined it, and that's the definition we want the court to honor," said Sen. Mike Hewitt, leader of the Senate Republicans. The high court heard arguments about the constitutionality of the act last March. Opponents of the marriage ban argued that it contradicts the constitution's provision against granting privileges to one group of citizens. They also said the marriage ban violates the state's Equal Rights Amendment. A decision on the case could come at any time. Possible options for the ruling include: --Upholding the law, thus barring same-sex couples from marrying. --Declaring the law unconstitutional and granting same-sex couples the same marriage rights as heterosexuals. Massachusetts is the only state to afford full marriage rights to same-sex couples. --Declaring the ban unconstitutional and sending it back to the legislature for a solution. The Vermont supreme court took this path, and its legislature ultimately enacted civil unions. Should the high court decide Washington's marriage ban is unconstitutional, "all we're asking is that they kick it back to the legislature," said house Republican leader Richard DeBolt. "We just don't want them to go further and interpret what their decision means to the law." But senate majority leader Lisa Brown, a Democrat from Spokane, said interpreting the law is the exact purpose of the supreme court. "In our system of government, the supreme court is supposed to determine the constitutionality of the laws that we pass," said Brown, who voted against the marriage ban in 1998. "To tell the court what is and is not to do--I'm not sure what the point is." Jamie Pedersen, an attorney in the case, echoed those statements. "If the legislators don't like what the supreme court says, they can, by a two-thirds majority, propose a constitutional amendment to the people," said Pedersen, an attorney with the gay advocacy group Lambda Legal. "That's how our system of government works. That's part of the checks and balances." Republican leaders said that they were not trying to subvert the court. "We totally support and respect the right of the supreme court to rule on constitutional issues," said house Republican floor leader Doug Ericksen. "Just as we have respect for what happens at the court level, we also want the court to have respect for what happens at the legislative level." (AP)

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