Seattle mayor recognizes employee same-sex unions

Denied marriage licenses, six couples file suit in surrounding King County

March 09, 2004|By Lynn Marshall and Elizabeth Mehren | Lynn Marshall and Elizabeth Mehren,LOS ANGELES TIMES

SEATTLE - Six same-sex couples filed suit against King County yesterday after being denied marriage licenses, and Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels immediately pledged his support for such unions, ordering city departments to recognize the marriages of gay and lesbian municipal workers who wed elsewhere.

"We pay taxes in King County; we like living here," said Mala Nagarajan, 35, who joined the lawsuit with her partner of six years, Vega Subrananiam, 38. "We want our marriage to be recognized - to have the same legal protections and rights heterosexual couples have."

In Oregon, meanwhile, a group that opposes same-sex marriage unsuccessfully sought a restraining order yesterday to bar clerks in Multnomah County from issuing licenses to gay and lesbian couples. More than 1,300 couples have taken out marriage licenses since Oregon's most populous county, which includes Portland, changed its policy last week to permit gays and lesbians to marry.

"It is unfortunate that the sacred institution of marriage would become part of somebody's political agenda," said Tim Nashif, a spokesman for Oregon's Defense of Marriage Coalition. The organization sued Friday to challenge the process by which Multnomah County commissioners had moved to give out marriage licenses to gay and lesbian applicants.

The latest developments in the Pacific Northwest added to the momentum of a movement - and counter-movement - that began when a November court decision made Massachusetts the first state to legalize gay and lesbian marriage. After a clarification in February from the same court, the ruling is to take effect May 17.

For supporters of same-sex marriage, that decision opened the floodgates. With the blessing of Mayor Gavin Newsom, San Francisco city clerks have performed thousands of gay and lesbian marriages since Feb. 12.

The mayor of a small town in New York has officiated at more than two dozen gay weddings. Then came last week's torrent of marriage licenses in Oregon.

And yesterday, a gay couple were married in Asbury Park, N.J., after being issued a license by city officials who say state law there does not explicitly ban such unions.

"Folks in Seattle have watched with envy as marriage has spread up and down the West Coast," said Jamie Pederson, a Seattle attorney who served as one of the lead lawyers in the suit filed yesterday.

Same-sex marriage is legal in neighboring British Columbia, Pederson pointed out: "There is a huge demand for it here - not just in Seattle, but statewide."

Washington law prevents Seattle's mayor from authorizing same-sex marriage because licenses are issued by counties, not cities - as is the practice in California and New York.

Seattle in 1989 extended domestic partner benefits to city employees in same-sex relationships. Nickels said yesterday that he would ask the City Council to endorse an ordinance broadening those benefits to everyone in Seattle.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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