Same-sex marriage in Washington (state)

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Same-sex marriage in Washington state has been legally recognized since December 6, 2012.

On February 13, 2012, Governor Christine Gregoire signed legislation that established full marriage rights for same-sex couples in the state of Washington. Opponents mounted a challenge that required voters to approve the statute at a referendum, which they did on November 6. The law took effect on December 6, and the first marriages were celebrated on December 9. Within a couple of days, more than 600 same-sex marriage licenses were issued in King County alone.

Previously, in 1998, the state had enacted the Defense of Marriage Act that restricted marriage to different-sex couples, reinforcing its statutes that had been interpreted by a state court in 1974 as imposing the same restriction. Several lawsuits filed in state court challenged the state's marriage laws without success, including one filed in 1971, one of the first such cases in the United States.

Statutory ban[edit]

In 1997, the Washington State Legislature, in response to events in Hawaii that suggested that the state might legalize same-sex marriage,[1] passed a bill that would define marriage as the union of a man and a woman and deny legal recognition to same-sex marriages established elsewhere. The vote was 63 to 35 in the House and 27 to 19 in the Senate.[2] Governor Gary Locke vetoed the legislation on February 21, calling it "divisive and unnecessary", citing the 1974 state court decision in Singer v. Hara. He wrote in his veto message: "Our overarching principle should be to promote civility, mutual respect and unity. This legislation fails to meet this test."[3] An attempt to override his veto failed in the state Senate on a party-line vote,[4] 26 to 20, when seven Democrats who had originally supported the measure changed their position to support the Governor.[2] Although Republicans threatened to put the issue to a popular referendum in November, some of their members thought the issue was not urgent enough to risk a contentious public campaign.[2]

In 1998, the State Legislature passed the same legislation, the Defense of Marriage Act, and expected the Governor to allow it to become law without his signature. Instead, he vetoed it a second time, saying that "Our laws right now prohibit same-gender marriages, and I oppose this legislation because it is trying to make illegal something that is already illegal". Democrats who feared the impact of having the legislation on the November ballot helped override his veto. One Democratic leader in the House said: "I'll vote to override. I'll stand up and say it's a bad bill, but it's even worse to have this issue on the ballot."[4] According to The Seattle Times: "Lawmakers, eager to be done with the controversial issue, rushed the ban through in minutes and dumped it in the governor's lap. Locke's veto came within the hour. Then both houses voted summarily to override the veto. No one could remember the last time a bill was passed, vetoed and overridden within hours–with almost no discussion and no debate."[5]


Singer v. Hara[edit]

In 1971, in Seattle, in one of the first same-sex marriage lawsuits in the U.S., gay activists John Singer (later known as Faygele Ben-Miriam)[6] and Paul Barwick requested a marriage license from the King County auditor, Lloyd Hara, to demonstrate the inequality between gay and heterosexual couples.[7] Hara refused, and Singer and Barwick brought suit on the grounds that the denial violated the Equal Rights Amendment of the State Constitution. The Washington Court of Appeals denied the claim in 1974 in Singer v. Hara. The Washington Supreme Court refused to review the decision.[8][9]

Andersen v. King County[edit]

Andersen v. Sims

On March 8, 2004, six same-sex couples represented by Lambda Legal filed suit in state court challenging the constitutionality of Washington's Defense of Marriage Act. The four constitutional claims were based on due process, privacy, equal protection and gender equality. On August 4, King County Superior Court Judge William L. Downing issued an opinion in Andersen v. Sims that the state had no rational basis for excluding same-sex couples from the rights and benefits of marriage. The decision concluded that the state law limiting marriage to different-sex couples violated sections of the Constitution that required due process and equal protection of the laws. The court did not require the state to allow same-sex couples to marry, but mandated the creation of a civil union status that would provide all the rights and benefits of marriage to same-sex couples. Downing stayed enforcement of his order pending appeal to the Washington Supreme Court.

Castle v. State

On April 1, 2004, eleven same-sex couples represented by the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit in state court challenging Washington's laws that banned same-sex couples from marrying. It also sought recognition of marriages performed legally in other jurisdictions. On September 7, Thurston County Superior Court Judge Richard D. Hicks ruled in Castle v. State that the state's marriage laws violated the equal protection of privileges and immunities clause of the State Constitution.

Consolidated as Andersen v. King County

The Washington Supreme Court consolidated the two cases, Andersen v. Sims and Castle v. State, for review as Andersen v. King County. It heard oral arguments on March 8, 2005. On July 26, 2006, it reversed the trial courts' determinations in a 5–4 ruling. The majority opinion focused on the constitutionality of the State Legislature's enactment of the Defense of Marriage Act limiting the privileges of marriage to opposite-sex couples. In October 2006, the court refused to reconsider its ruling.[10]

Initiative 957[edit]

On January 10, 2007, the Washington Defense of Marriage Alliance, an activist organization that, despite its name, favored marriage rights for same-sex couples, filed a voter initiative, Initiative 957, to incorporate part of the Andersen decision into state statutes by making procreation a requirement for all marriages in Washington state. The group's stated rationale was to prompt public examination of the premise that marriage exists for the purpose of procreation and to create a test case in which Andersen would be reversed. The initiative's sponsors withdrew it on July 3, after failing to gather a sufficient number of signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

Same-sex marriage law[edit]

Just married couples leaving Seattle City Hall are greeted by well-wishers on the first day of same-sex marriage in Washington state.

Advocates of marriage rights for same-sex couples, lacking the votes in the State Legislature to accomplish their objective, instead focused on enacting domestic partnerships that would grant such couples a subset of the rights attached to marriage. A law to this effect was approved by the State Legislature. This legal status was also made available under certain circumstances to different-sex couples. The legislation took effect on April 22, 2007.[11]

On January 26, 2012, legislation legalizing same-sex marriage and converting most domestic partnerships not dissolved within two years into marriages passed the Washington State Senate's Committee for Government Operations, Tribal Relations and Elections. Republican Dan Swecker introduced four amendments that failed on a party-line vote of 3–4. Republican Don Benton asked for the legislation to be placed on the November 2012 ballot as a referendum but his motion failed by a 3–4 vote. The bill was reported out of the committee by a 4–3 vote.[12] It passed the Senate by a vote of 28–21 on February 1.

The House of Representatives took up the same measure and passed it out of the Judiciary Committee on January 30 by a 7–6 party-line vote.[13] The committee voted on the Senate-approved version of the bill on February 6, passing it by a 7–5 vote, with one Republican committee member absent.[14][15] The House passed the legislation on February 8 by a vote of 55–43.[16][17] The legislation also provided that all domestic partnerships not involving at least one member aged 62 years or older and not dissolved within two years of the date the law goes into effect would automatically become marriages.[18][19]

Governor Christine Gregoire signed the bill into law on February 13.[20] It was scheduled to take effect 90 days after the end of the legislative session.

Same-sex marriage referendum[edit]

Some of the first same-sex couples to be married in Washington proceed to welcoming crowds down the steps of Seattle City Hall, December 9, 2012.

Opponents of the legalization of same-sex marriage delayed its implementation by collecting the signatures necessary to put the measure to a popular vote on November 6, 2012, as Referendum 74.[21] In that referendum, voters approved the law by a 54%–46% margin.[22][23] The law took effect on December 6. Because Washington requires a three-day waiting period (excluding the day of issue) before a marriage certificate may be signed, the first same-sex marriages in the state took place on December 9, 2012.[24][25]

Following the coming into effect of the same-sex marriage law on December 6, 2012, the definition of marriage in the state of Washington is now as follows:[26]

Marriage is a civil contract between two persons who have each attained the age of eighteen years, and who are otherwise capable. [RCW 26.04.010]

Economic impact[edit]

In 2006, a study from the University of California, Los Angeles estimated the impact of allowing same-sex couples to marry would have on Washington's state budget. The study concluded that allowing same-sex couples to marry would result in a net gain of approximately $3.9 million to $5.7 million each year for the state. This net impact would result from savings in state expenditures on means-tested public benefits programs and from an increase in sales tax revenue from weddings and wedding-related tourism.[27]

Marriage statistics[edit]

In the first nine months of same-sex marriage legalisation in Washington state, 7,071 same-sex couples legally entered into a marriage, 3,452 of them in highly populated King County.[28] Of all marriages conducted in the state, 17% were same-sex marriages, and 62% of those were between women.[29]

By December 31, 2015, approximately 15,750 same-sex marriages had been performed in Washington state, a significant proportion of which occurred in the first 12 months of legalisation.[30]

Same-sex marriages in Washington state[31]
County 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 Total
Adams 2 0 2 0 1 5
Asotin 1 13 8 3 5 30
Benton 22 89 37 43 25 216
Chelan 7 58 29 19 32 145
Clallam 7 62 40 21 22 152
Clark 98 1,431 432 127 82 2,170
Columbia 1 4 8 2 0 15
Cowlitz 2 50 27 27 18 124
Douglas 2 8 4 0 1 15
Ferry 0 2 1 0 0 3
Franklin 1 11 13 11 11 47
Garfield 0 0 2 0 0 2
Grant 2 20 11 9 10 52
Grays Harbor 7 60 27 20 23 137
Island 27 151 61 44 43 326
Jefferson 6 68 45 13 25 157
King 687 3,840 1,746 943 928 8,144
Kitsap 25 242 134 95 76 572
Kittitas 2 31 10 8 19 70
Klickitat 1 38 22 4 2 67
Lewis 5 34 22 15 12 88
Lincoln 1 0 5 3 0 9
Mason 5 58 31 25 10 129
Okanogan 2 18 8 9 6 43
Pacific 3 29 15 7 10 64
Pend Oreille 1 10 6 1 1 19
Pierce 87 538 334 254 253 1,466
San Juan 10 82 42 25 15 174
Skagit 9 94 48 37 19 207
Skamania 1 63 29 4 9 106
Snohomish 51 376 198 144 134 903
Spokane 45 336 189 85 104 759
Stevens 2 9 8 3 7 29
Thurston 72 301 142 96 84 695
Wahkiakum 0 2 3 1 1 7
Walla Walla 4 51 26 7 7 95
Whatcom 25 165 72 52 64 378
Whitman 2 30 17 5 7 61
Yakima 12 55 42 35 25 169
Tribal Authority 0 0 0 0 0 0
Total 1,237 8,429 3,896 2,197 2,091 17,850

Public opinion[edit]

Supporters of same-sex marriage campaigning in June 2012, Seattle

A May 2011 Public Policy Polling (PPP) survey found that 46% of Washington voters thought same-sex marriage should be legal, while 44% thought it should be illegal and 10% were not sure.[32]

An October 2011 University of Washington poll found that 55% of Washington voters would vote to uphold a legislatively approved same-sex marriage bill if it were put to a referendum, while 38% would oppose it and 7% were undecided. A separate question on the same survey found that 43% of respondents thought that gay and lesbian couples should have the same right to marry as straight couples, 22% thought that gay and lesbian couples should have the same rights as straight couples without the word "marriage", 15% thought that gay and lesbian couples should have domestic partnerships with only some of the rights of marriage, 17% opposed all legal recognition, and 3% did not know.[33]

A February 2012 PPP survey found that 50% of Washington voters would vote to uphold a same-sex marriage law, while 46% would vote to repeal it and 4% were not sure. In addition, 32% believed that same-sex couples should be allowed to enter civil unions but not marriage and 20% were opposed to all legal recognition of same-sex relationships.[34]

A June 2012 PPP survey found that 51% of Washington voters thought same-sex marriage should be legal, while 42% thought it should be illegal and 7% were not sure.[35]

A November 2012 PPP survey found that 54% of Washington voters thought same-sex marriage should be legal, while 40% thought it should be illegal and 5% were not sure.[36]

A May 2015 PPP survey found that 56% of Washington voters thought same-sex marriage should be legal, while 36% thought it should be illegal and 8% were not sure.[37]

A 2016 Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) poll found that 64% of Washington residents supported same-sex marriage, while 26% were opposed and 10% were unsure or undecided.[38] In 2017, the PRRI placed support at 73%, and opposition at 21%.[39]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Governor Vetoes Gay Marriage Ban". Los Angeles Times. February 22, 1997. Retrieved September 2, 2014.
  2. ^ a b c Targovnik, Diane (February 27, 1997). "Locke's Veto of Gay Marriage Ban Stands". The Spokesman-Review. Associated Press. Retrieved September 2, 2014.
  3. ^ Ammons, David (February 22, 1997). "Locke Vetoes Ban On Same-Sex Marriages Flays Bill As Discriminatory; Lawmakers Vow To Send Issue To Voters". The Spokesman-Review. Associated Press. Retrieved September 2, 2014.
  4. ^ a b "Democrats Plan To Defy Locke On Gay Marriage Even A Veto Override Would Be Better Than A Public Vote, They Say". The Spokesman-Review. February 5, 1998. Retrieved September 2, 2014.
  5. ^ Mapes, Lynda V. (February 7, 1998). "Gay-Marriage Ban Coasts Into Law–Harried Democrats Help Override Veto". Seattle Times. Retrieved August 31, 2014.
  6. ^ Beers, Carole (June 7, 2000). "Faygele benMiriam crusaded for rights". Seattle Times. Retrieved October 31, 2012.
  7. ^ McNerthney, Casey (December 13, 2012). "Seattle gay rights pioneer recalls struggle for marriage equality: Paul Barwick and John Singer were first to apply for same-sex marriage in King County". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Retrieved December 13, 2012.
  8. ^ "Gay Marriage’s Jewish Pioneer", Eli Sanders, The Tablet, June 6, 2012.
  9. ^ Washington Court of Appeals: Singer v. Hara, May 20, 1974
  10. ^ "Anderson v. King County", Lambda Legal
  11. ^ "Governor Gregoire Signs Legislation Giving Legal Rights to Domestic Partners". Office of the Governor. Archived from the original on March 25, 2010. Retrieved March 19, 2010.
  12. ^ Salerno, Christina (January 26, 2012). "Same-sex marriage bill passes in Senate committee". Capitol Record. Archived from the original on September 19, 2012. Retrieved August 31, 2014.
  13. ^ "Wash. House committee approves gay marriage bill". Seattle Post Intelligencer. January 30, 2012.
  14. ^ Runquist, Justin (February 6, 2012). "Washington Legislature: Gay marriage bill moves through House Judiciary Committee".
  15. ^ "Washington State Senate approves same-sex marriage". MSNBC. February 1, 2012. Archived from the original on February 2, 2012.
  16. ^ "Washington state legislature votes to approve same-sex marriage". CNN. February 8, 2012.
  17. ^ "Washington state House approves same-sex marriage". Seattle Post Intelligencer. February 8, 2012. Retrieved February 9, 2012.
  18. ^ "Referendum 74: Frequently Asked Questions, Office of the Washington Secretary of State, June 2012". Archived from the original on January 30, 2013. Retrieved November 7, 2012.
  19. ^ Turnbull, Lornet (February 16, 2014). "State to same-sex domestic partners: You're about to be married". Seattle Times. Retrieved February 17, 2014.
  20. ^ Turnbull, Lornet (February 14, 2012). "Gregoire signs gay marriage into law". Seattle Times. Retrieved December 6, 2012.
  21. ^ "Anti-gay-marriage measure qualifies for Wash. state ballot". USA Today. June 12, 2012. Retrieved July 2, 2012.
  22. ^ "Referendum Measure No. 74 Concerns marriage for same-sex couples". Washington Secretary of State. Archived from the original on December 14, 2012. Retrieved December 6, 2012.
  23. ^ Connelly, Joel (November 8, 2012). "Washington approves same-sex marriage". Seattle Post Intelligencer. Retrieved December 6, 2012.
  24. ^ Pilkington, Ed (December 9, 2012). "Washington state kicks off day of gay marriages with midnight ceremonies". The Guardian. London. Retrieved December 9, 2012.
  25. ^ La Corte, Rachel (December 9, 2012). "Washington Gay Marriage Law Takes Effect". The Huffington Post. Archived from the original on September 24, 2015. Retrieved March 15, 2013.
  26. ^ Title 26 Chapter 26.04
  27. ^ "eScholarship: The Impact of Washington's Budget of Allowing Same-Sex Couples to Marry". June 1, 2006. Retrieved January 20, 2012.
  28. ^ Thousands of gay couples tie the knot in Washington state
  29. ^ Gay Weddings 17 Percent of Washington Marriages
  30. ^ "Legal gay marriage marks 5 years in Washington". November 8, 2017.
  31. ^ "Marriage Tables by Year". Washington State Department of Health.
  32. ^ "WA voters done with Rossi, not open to Kucinich bid" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on October 20, 2011. Retrieved January 20, 2012.
  33. ^ "2011 Washington Poll" (PDF). Retrieved January 20, 2012.
  34. ^ Voters Support Gay Marriage
  35. ^ "McKenna takes lead in Wa. gubernatorial race" (PDF). Public Policy Polling. Retrieved June 19, 2012.
  36. ^ WA-Gov a toss up, Obama and gay marriage well ahead
  37. ^ Washington Voters Grow Further In Support of Gay Marriage, Marijuana, Background Checks
  38. ^ "American Values Atlas 2016, Washington". Public Religion Research Institute.
  39. ^ "American Values Atlas 2017, Washington". Public Religion Research Institute.

External links[edit]