Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

Editor: Gerry W. Beyer
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Friday, July 28, 2006

Washington Supreme Court upholds state law prohibiting same-sex marriage

In Washington Court Upholds Ban on Gay Marriage, NYTimes.com (July 27, 2006), Adam Liptak and Timothy Egan reported on the recent Washington Supreme Court decision that upholds the 1998 Washington Defense of Marriage Act which bans marriage between two individuals of the same gender.  In Anderson v. King County (Wash., 2006), where 19 gay and lesbian couples brought suit challenging the act, the state’s Supreme Court said there was a rational relationship between the law and a legitimate state end.
Here are some excerpts from the body of the court’s opinion:
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.
The [Supreme] Court noted that “if a law neither burdens a fundamental right nor targets a suspect class, we will uphold the legislative classification so long as it bears a rational relation to some legitimate end.” [Romer v. Evans, 517 U.S. 620, 631, (1996).]
In conclusion, the court stated:
The question we resolve today is whether the legislature may limit the definition of marriage to include only heterosexual unions. The case law that controls our inquiry compels our conclusions.
The issue of same-sex marriage has been the subject of intense debate throughout the nation. Although times are changing, the plaintiffs have not established that as of today sexual orientation is a suspect classification or that a person has a fundamental right to a same-sex marriage. Thus, the State is required to demonstrate only a rational basis to justify the legislation. Under this highly deferential standard, any conceivable state of facts providing a rational basis for the classification may be considered. The legislature was entitled to believe that limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples furthers the State’s legitimate interests in procreation and the well-being of children.


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