Washington State Court Upholds Gay-Marriage Ban

Act upheld in 5-4 vote.

The Washington Supreme Court dealt a setback to the hopes of the state's gay couples on Wednesday when it voted 5-4 to uphold a Defense of Marriage Act passed by the state legislature in 1998. The win for opponents of gay marriage came as three of the judges who ruled with the majority on the court called on lawmakers to revisit the ban on same-sex marriage and investigate whether it creates a "clear hardship" on gay people and their children, according to The Seattle Times.

"Christians all over the state have been praying for this decision, and there is a sense of joy," said Rick Kingham, senior pastor of the Overlake Christian Church in Redmond, Washington and a leader of the citizens group Allies for Marriage & Children, according to the Los Angeles Times. "We would truly say that God has intervened in the affairs of man." The ruling in the liberal-leaning state was similar to one reached in New York earlier this month that also fell short of making the state the second behind Massachusetts to allow gay marriage(see "New York Court Rejects Same-Sex Marriage; Georgia Court Reinstates Ban").

The Washington State ruling overturned decisions by two lower court judges who ruled the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional. Supporters of gay marriage took heart in the narrow margin of the court's vote and in the judge's urging to lawmakers to take another look at the issue, the Los Angeles Times reported.

As in several other state rulings — and as vehemently stated by President Bush when gay marriage was being debated in the Senate earlier this year — the majority of judges in the case said they felt the gay marriage issue should be decided by the legislature or by a popular referendum put to the state's voters.

"If the legislature does not make changes first, I firmly believe that a future court will take up this issue again," said King County Executive Ron Sims, the chief elected official in a jurisdiction that includes Seattle. "And on that day a wiser and more enlightened generation will overturn this ruling."

State Representative Ed Murray, an openly gay lawmaker from Seattle, told the disappointed plaintiffs — 19 gay and lesbian Washington couples — in the case that he would introduce legislation in January to bring marriage equality to the state, according to The Seattle Times. However, he acknowledged that votes are not yet sufficient for marriage or civil unions, and that it could be years before such a measure is approved.

Justice Barbara A. Madsen wrote in one of two opinions in the majority that, "While same-sex marriage may be the law at a future time, it will be because the people declare it to be, not because five members of this court have dictated it. There is evidence that times are changing, but we cannot conclude that at this time the people of Washington are entitled to hold an expectation that they may marry a person of the same sex."

The four justices who dissented in the case called the upholding of the Defense of Marriage Act a form of discrimination. "Unfortunately," wrote Justice Mary E. Fairhurst, those in the majority "are willing to turn a blind eye to [the act's] discrimination because a popular majority still favors that discrimination." The Defense of Marriage Act was passed by the Legislature in 1998 over the veto of then-Governor Gary Locke, a Democrat.

The Washington ruling could have implications for gay marriage rulings that are forthcoming in New Jersey, California and Maryland.