Same-sex marriage in Washington state
On February 13, 2012, Washington 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.
In 1997, the Washington Legislature, in response to events in Hawaii that suggested that the state might legalize same-sex marriage, 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. 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." An attempt to override his veto failed in the state Senate on a party-line vote, 26 to 20, when seven Democrats who had originally supported the measure changed their position to support the Governor. 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.
In 1998, the 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." 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."
Singer v. Hara
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) and Paul Barwick requested a marriage license from the King County auditor, Lloyd Hara, to demonstrate the inequality between gay and heterosexual couples. 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.
Andersen v. King County
- 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 said 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 ban 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 Legislature's enactment of the state's Defense of Marriage Act limiting the privileges of marriage to opposite-sex couples. In October 2006, the court refused to reconsider its ruling.
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
Advocates of marriage rights for same-sex couples, lacking the votes in the Legislature to accomplish their objective, instead focused on enacting domestic partnerships that would grant such couples a subset of the rights that attach to marriage. A law to this effect was approved by the Legislature. This legal status was also made available under certain circumstances to different-sex couples. The legislation took effect on April 22, 2007.
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 and his motion failed by a 3-4 vote. The bill was reported out of the committee by a 4-3 vote. 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. 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. The House passed the legislation on February 8 by a vote of 55-43. 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.
Governor Gregoire signed the bill into law on February 13. It was scheduled to take effect 90 days after the end of the legislative session.
Same-sex marriage referendum
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. In that referendum, voters approved the law by a 54%-46% margin. 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.
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:
Marriage is a civil contract between two persons who have each attained the age of eighteen years, and who are otherwise capable.
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% didn't know.
A February 2012 survey by Public Policy Polling found that 50% of Washington voters would vote to uphold a law which would legalize same-sex marriage, 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.
A June 2012 survey by Public Policy Polling found that 51% of Washington voters thought that same-sex marriage should be legal, while 42% thought it should be illegal and 7% were not sure.
A November 2012 survey by Public Policy Polling found that 54% of Washington voters thought that same-sex marriage should be legal, while 40% thought it should be illegal and 5% were not sure.
A May 2015 survey by Public Policy Polling found that 56% of Washington voters thought that same-sex marriage should be legal, while 36% thought it should be illegal and 8% were not sure.
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. In 2017, the PRRI found that 73% of Washingtonians supported same-sex marriage, while 21% were opposed and 6% were unsure.
In 2006, a UCLA study 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.
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. Of all marriages conducted in the state, 17% were same-sex marriages, and 62% of those were between women.
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.
- LGBT rights in Washington
- Domestic partnership in Washington state
- History of the LGBT community in Seattle
- Law of Washington
- Washington United for Marriage
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