I fully support marriage equality legislation and want it to pass in the Washington State Legislature this year. The reason? I don’t think it’s fair to say to one group of people, “Yes, you can marry”, and to another, “No, you can’t”. People don’t choose who they love. Gay and lesbian couples should have the right to marry.
The first time I personally dealt with this issue was in early 2004. Gavin Newsom, the Mayor of San Francisco, had issued a directive to the city clerk to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples.
Ron Sims at King County wanted to do something similar. I was his legal counsel, and I had to advise him that the Washington State 1998 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was very clear. He couldn’t do the same thing Newsom had done. But, I advised him, if someone were to file a lawsuit against King County, he could come out in support of those who wanted to marry in King County.
Couples who wanted to marry stepped forward to be plaintiffs. Ron asked if my husband, Brad Bagshaw, would serve as a pro bono attorney on their behalf. I immediately got on the phone with Brad and told him I would support it completely if he wanted to be part of this historic effort. So, essentially, Brad sued ME!
In addition to Brad, a volunteer legal team came together very quickly. It included Representative. Jamie Pedersen Jennie Pizer from Lambda Legal, Pat Novatny, a volunteer for the Northwest Women’s Law Center, (now called Legal Voice), and many others.
Over the next week, many more gay couples volunteered to join the law suit. They were wonderful, admirable, inspiring couples, people in committed long-term relationships with children, grandchildren, and deep roots in the community.
Because of the conflict of interest, I was taken off the case (Andersen v. King County). No one could tell me anything about it, not even Brad – I had to read about how it was going in the paper. On the day of oral arguments in Superior Court, I sneaked into the back of the courtroom just to watch the proceedings. I tried to be invisible against the wall as my dear husband argued on behalf of the couples who wanted to marry and have the same rights and responsibilities as other married couples in our State.
I remember the day the decision was handed down from King County Superior Court by Judge William Downing. I was in a meeting away from my office, and I knew that the decision would be announced that day — Wednesday, August 4, 2004. Midway through my meeting, the receptionist came in and handed me a note: “Ruling in favor of the plaintiff.” What? I thought it had to be a mistake! Everyone thought the ruling would be in favor of the defendants in the lower court – that is, against marriage equality.
I had to excuse myself and call Brad to confirm that YES, they’d really won the Andersen case. It was a great moment. I’ve saved that message in a frame on my wall every since. I can see it from where I’m writing this.
Unfortunately, the ruling was overturned by the Washington State Supreme Court, in a 6-3 ruling the following year, but, the momentum had started and thanks to all the people who remain dedicated to the cause, it has continued to build, and now we see the issue before the state legislature.
My heartfelt gratitude and appreciation go out to the legal team on the Andersen case, the plaintiffs, the thousands of couples in our State who want to marry. Blessings on Rep. Jamie Pedersen and Sen. Ed Murray who have steadfastly promoted this legislation. And thanks to Governor Gregoire for sharing her personal journey and her strong stand on this issue. Making no bones about it, she said last week, “It’s time for us to stand up and understand the state cannot be in the business of discrimination.”
The reason why I support is marriage equality is because I support equality. I believe all adults should have the right and privilege to marry who they love. Simple as that.