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King County's same-sex marriage argument goes statewide

By ERICA HALL

The Mirror

Attorneys on both sides of the marriage equality issue met in Olympia yesterday for arguments before the state Supreme Court, which will spend the next several months drafting a decision that will guide the issuance of marriage licenses in Washington.

The hearing follows a discrimination lawsuit filed in King County last year after County Executive Ron Sims refused to allow the county to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples and encouraged them to take the issue to court.

Last August, King County Superior Court judge William Downing ruled in favor of the couples, but issued a stay on marriage licenses until the case had been heard by the Supreme Court.

The nine state justices went into conference after the hearing yesterday to begin the process of drafting a decision. Jamie Pedersen, an attorney for Lambda Legal, a group favoring same-sex marriage, said a decision probably will be issued by this fall.

Pedersen appeared in court yesterday to argue that the state’s Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between one man and one woman, violates the Equal Rights Amendment by allowing one class of people certain benefits that are denied another class.

“We feel confident we have a strong majority of justices who are open to the argument we’re making,” Pedersen said.

He said the judges’ decision isn’t a sure thing, but he expects them to be supportive “when they see the magnitude of the problem faced by same-sex couples.”

Washington Evangelicals for Responsible Government (WERG) held a rally in Olympia yesterday opposing any change to the state Defense of Marriage Act.

Joe Fuiten, pastor of the Cedar Park Assembly of God in Bothell and president of WERG, said Monday he expected “thousands” to attend the rally, representing a cross-section of religious affiliations.

Fuiten said WERG members believe marriage is a license awarded to heterosexual couples who marry and raise children.

The group also opposes “the court imposing homosexual marriage on the state,” he said.

Marriage equality supporters argue the state can’t discriminate. If married couples have the right to certain benefits that unmarried couples don’t, Pedersen said, same-sex couples shouldn’t be barred from being married and therefore having access to the same benefits because of their sexual orientation.

Fuiten disagrees, saying the state has the responsibility to govern who gets marriage licenses –– children and first cousins can’t, for instance –– to protect the functionsociety and the upbringing of children.

He said allowing same-sex marriages would present sex education issues in public schools and would require a normalization of same-sex relationships in the public sphere.

“It affects us all,” he said. “You just usher in this horrendous change in the way children are raised. It’s a social experiment with children that is too risky to take.”

Marriage equality proponents argue the Defense of Marriage Act infringes on the privacy clause that asserts there are certain fundamental decisions people make with which the state has no right to interfere.

“Choosing a life partner is one of the most fundamental choices a person makes,” Pedersen said. “For the state to say you can’t choose this life partner, you have to choose another of a different sex, offends that clause.”

Staff writer Erica Hall: 925-5565, ehall@fedwaymirror.com

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