Washington will be the next big battleground for gay marriage.
It was here and gone, one day's newspaper headline, but last week's Thurston County Superior Court ruling in Olympia—that the state's badly misnamed Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional—virtually guarantees that the question of gay marriage will go to the state Supreme Court.
When it does, expect fireworks. Washington state's constitution is among the most stringent in the country when it comes to protecting the rights of the individual. ("No law shall be passed granting to any citizen, class of citizens, or corporation other than municipal, privileges or immunities which upon the same terms shall not equally belong to all citizens, or corporations.") Two courts have now ruled that our state's constitution doesn't allow for two classes of individuals, in this case straight and gay, to be treated differently under the law. For that reason, there's a very, very good chance that sometime in the next year the state's highest court will rule that gay marriage is legal.
It would be nice if we could simply fast-forward past that, past the inevitable political posturing and religious harrumphing that will follow, and accept gay marriage for the inevitability that it is. But just because it's inevitable doesn't mean there won't be a battle, with conservative political and social leaders playing to peoples' fears and deeply held biases to try to stem the tide of social change.
It seems cruel, really, to leave couples hanging on the court rulings in this jurisdiction and that: legal in Seattle and pariahs in Idaho, welcome in Hawaii and Massachusetts and closeted in Utah and Alabama. It's equally cruel that people who just want to express their love for each other and enjoy the same rights that straight people take for granted find themselves instead to be political footballs. These couples often don't want to make statements to anyone except each other.
Alas, only time will enable gays to achieve equality under the law, time that lets social mores catch up, time for the old, bigoted ways to die out and a new generation of tolerance and diversity to take root.
Washington is shaping up as one of the first battlegrounds in this war because of our constitution. It hasn't always been interpreted this way by the courts, but in the late 1800s, the state's founding fathers went considerably farther than America's founders did a century previous. Our heritage of safeguarded equality under the law is something to be proud of and something to keep in mind when we elect our state Supreme Court justices.
Gay marriage should be such a simple question under the law. Any consenting adults should have the right to get married. Period. The law is separate from any religious connotations the ceremony might carry. For our legal system, the only questions should be whether the individuals are competent and of age, and whether they're not already married. Legal marriage long ago left the realm of the divine and became, instead, contract law. Religious doctrine should have nothing to do with it. Alas, we still live in an era where some religious followers would like to impose their beliefs on all of us. That's very much what the opposition to gay marriage adds up to.
Under thatcontract law, beyond all the political and cultural bickering over gay marriage, there remain human beings—and hearts. People get married because they're in love. (Well, usually.) We long ago accepted that people of the same sex can be in love. The debate over whether or not to recognize their love in law is simply cruel; there's no reason not to that doesn't reek of discrimination. The battle serves to remind us that discrimination against gays and lesbians is still alive and well.
That's exactly the sort of discrimination that our state constitution forbids. Get ready for the fireworks. The sooner they're over with, the better.