By CURT WOODWARD, Associated Press Writer Sat Jul 29, 2:56 PM ET
King County Executive Ron Sims, who helped foster one of the original lawsuits by same-sex couples seeking to marry in Seattle, addresses a news conference Wednesday, July 26, 2006, in Seattle. The state Supreme Court upheld a ban on gay marriage Wednesday, saying lawmakers have the power to restrict marriage to unions between a man and woman. The 5-4 decision disappointed hopeful gay-marriage advocates and leaves Massachusetts as the only state to grant full marriage rights to gay and lesbian couples. As King County executive, Sims couldn't just ignore a state ban on gay nuptials, no matter how much he wanted to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. But, Sims reasoned, he could try to get the law thrown out. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
OLYMPIA, Wash. - With the far-off peal of wedding bells for gay couples growing louder and local pressure mounting, Ron Sims found himself in a legal bind in early 2004.
The King County executive felt he couldn't just ignore a state ban on gay nuptials "” no matter how much he wanted to issue marriage licenses. However, Sims reasoned, he could try to get the law thrown out.
That's when gay-marriage advocate Lisa Stone got a very unusual phone call from an intermediary, who asked: Would you please sue Ron Sims?
"I said 'Probably. We will probably do that. When was he thinking?'" Stone recalled last week. "She said: 'Oh, immediately.'"
A flurry of legal work followed, and the field of possible plaintiffs was winnowed to 16 people willing to be public examples.
"We talked a lot over the weekend, because it was a big debate within the gay and lesbian community whether this was the appropriate time, whether this was the appropriate strategy," Sims said.
"I kept saying 'We need to bring this action.' And it was great "” other people began to join," he said.
By that March, their applications all denied by a tearful county licensing clerk, the couples and their lawyers sued Sims and King County, followed by a second group who filed suit a few weeks later in Thurston County, home of the state capital of Olympia.
However, more than two years later, the state Supreme Court ruled 5-4 this past Wednesday to uphold Washington's gay marriage ban, turning aside lower court rulings that it violated the state Constitution.
It was a surprising turn for gay-marriage backers "” and some opponents "” who thought the high court would erase the state's 1998 Defense of Marriage Act.
But regrets? Absolutely not, says Brenda Bauer, who with her longtime partner Celia Castle was among the plaintiffs.
"I feel like having this conversation with our community and with our city and with our state has made people more aware of the hardships that gay and lesbian couples face," she said. "I think that is what, over time, will lead people to the conclusion that we should have the same rights under the law."
The ruling was the latest in a series of recent courtroom victories for gay-marriage opponents, including rulings that upheld gay-marriage bans in New York and Nebraska.
Some critics of same-sex unions see the rulings as evidence that a legal tide has shifted against gay marriage since Massachusetts became the first state to grant full wedding benefits to gays and lesbians in 2003.
"Now, the Washington decision will also be important and influential in the ongoing court battles. There are still many out there being fought and still some to be initiated," said Monte Stewart, president of the Marriage Law Foundation, a group based in Orem, Utah, that opposes same-sex marriage.
Matt Daniels, president of the Alliance for Marriage, said it is possible that a few other states might join Massachusetts in legalizing gay marriage, and suggested the U.S. eventually will have to choose whether to ban or accept such unions nationwide.
"We could not have a cohesive society with radically different definitions of marriage throughout the states," he said.
Gay marriage supporters in Washington will likely turn their attention to the state Legislature. Democrats control both houses ahead of this fall's elections, although leading lawmakers and Gov. Chris Gregoire "” also a Democrat "” say they see no consensus on the issue.
Those officials and their counterparts elsewhere, however, will likely face growing pressure to consider the issue, said Evan Wolfson, a gay-rights lawyer and director of the group Freedom to Marry.
"When judges don't do their job, it makes it all the more important that legislators do theirs," he said.
And the court losses, other gay-marriage supporters said, raises the likelihood that people previously unconcerned with the issue will get involved.
"It has, perhaps, woken up some people who didn't care or were mildly opposed to marriage equality," Stone said.
"I do believe that a lot of people don't realize the implications of not being able to marry, and if they did they would say 'Oh, that's not fair,'" said Jeff Kingsbury, who with his partner Alan Fuller was a plaintiff in the lawsuit.
Sims, the county executive, sees change coming in the aftermath of the court's ruling.
"This decision will not be one, historically, that people will note with any sense of respect," he says.
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