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BREAKING NEWS ~ Washington high court upholds same-sex marriage ban

[JURIST] The Washington Supreme Court ruled Wednesday morning that a statute prohibiting same-sex marriage [JURIST news archive] does not violate the state Constitution. The Supreme Court reversed a 2004 Superior Court ruling [opinion text, PDF] that the state's 1998 Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional because it was "not rationally related to any legitimate or compelling state interest and is certainly not narrowly tailored toward such an interest."

In the majority opinion [PDF text], Justice Barbara Madsen [official profile] wrote:

The two cases before us require us to decide whether the legislature has the power to limit marriage in Washington State to opposite-sex couples. The state constitution and controlling case law compel us to answer "yes," and we therefore reverse the trial courts.

In reaching this conclusion, we have engaged in an exhaustive constitutional inquiry and have deferred to the legislative branch as required by our tri-partite form of government. Our decision accords with the substantial weight of authority from courts considering similar constitutional claims. We see no reason, however, why the legislature or the people acting through the initiative process would be foreclosed from extending the right to marry to gay and lesbian couples in Washington. It is important to note that the court's role is limited to determining the constitutionality of DOMA and that our decision is not based on an independent determination of what we believe the law should be.
Also available are Associate Chief Justice Johnson's concurring opinion [PDF text], as well as dissents from Justices Bridge, Chambers and Fairhurst [PDF texts].

Several same-sex couples [Lambda Legal profiles] filed the lawsuit [complaint, PDF; Lambda backgrounder] against King County in 2004 after they were denied marriage licenses. The plaintiffs in the case, Andersen v. King County, argued that the statute defining marriage [text] as a "civil contract between a male and a female" and prohibiting the marriage [text] "of persons other than a male and a female" violated the privacy and sex-equality guarantees [text] of the Washington Constitution. The plaintiffs specifically sought full marriage rights, rather than the civil unions offered by Vermont and Connecticut.

The only US state that now allows same-sex couples to marry is Massachusetts, although lawmakers are considering whether to place a same-sex marriage ban on the ballot for voters [JURIST report].

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