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Gay civil marriage progress in Washington State

There’s a great, long feature piece in The Olympian on the gay civil marriage front in Washington State. Even better, it features activist, self-proclaimed “all around gadfly and sh*t disturber,” and regular House Blend reader Paul Barwick. Paul has been on the front lines of this battle long before many of you out there were even born. He sued the state back in 1971 for the right to marry.

According to The Olympian, the state Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on the same-sex marriage lawsuits today. The cases are Andersen et. al. v. King County et. al. and Castle et. al. v. the state of Washington. At issue is whether the state’s Defense of Marriage Act, which defines legal marriage as between a man and a woman, unfairly discriminates against same-sex couples by denying them protections given to heterosexual couples. Nineteen couples from Washington are suing for the right to marry.

It was only a few years after Paul Barwick came to terms with his homosexuality that he and his partner walked into the King County administration building and applied for a marriage license — setting off the first legal battle in Washington and only the second in the country over same-sex marriage.

On Sept. 20, 1971, Barwick and his partner, the late John Singer, applied for a marriage license and were turned down. They responded by filing a lawsuit, contending that the denial violated their constitutional rights under the state’s recently enacted Equal Rights Amendment, which bars sex-based discrimination.

The case was shot down by a trial judge, and an appellate court upheld the decision.

I don’t think any one of us had any real hopes that we were going to be allowed to be married,” Barwick said last week during a telephone call from his home in San Francisco. “But it was certainly a start, and it got people talking. It’s come a long way in 30 years.”

Barwick, now 58, is much more hopeful for 19 same-sex couples who sued the state last year in two lawsuits for the right to marry. Unlike 30 years ago, two judges ruled in favor of the couples, finding the state’s ban on same-sex marriages unconstitutional. One of those cases was heard by Thurston County Superior Court Judge Richard Hicks.

And unlike when Barwick and his partner filed an appeal, this time the state asked a higher court to overturn the decisions. On Tuesday, the state Supreme Court will hear oral arguments from teams of attorneys representing all of the parties.

Barwick said it takes him back, albeit to a period when the public was much less aware of gay-rights issues. When he pursued his legal challenge, it didn’t draw thousands of demonstrators expected outside the state Supreme Court’s chambers this week.

Back then, people didn’t take same-sex marriages seriously enough to be concerned, he said.

“Things are a lot different,” he said. “People have changed their ideas about equality and civil rights. But the backlash is incredible these days. I think people feel we’re a target — a lot of people, myself included.”

Please read this whole article; it’s a wonderful profile, and an amazing history of what it took to pursue the civil right to marry at a time when coming out, let alone asking for your rights, was a risky proposition. Thanks, Paul.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding