Municipalities across the United States understand the ethical call for equal treatment and offered legal marriage to same-sex couples. While the U.S. president made bogus claims that “activist judges” ruling in favor of legal marriage for same-sex couples [See our article: Constitutional Dismemberment], numerous municipalities have clearly agreed with the courts, see the need for justice, and have issued official statements of support, as well as legal marriage licenses.
All the licenses that were issued were acts of civil disobedience as they were issued in states that forbid same-sex couples access to legal marriage. February 12, 2004 marked the beginning of the issuing of legal marriage licenses in California, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, and Oregon. By April 2005, the suits attacking those marriages had finished their course, and all of the nearly 7,300 marriages have been invalidated.
Here is a record of the extraordinary steps cities and counties have taken to promote the noble idea that all citizens must be treated equally.
San Francisco, California
Sandoval County, New Mexico
New Paltz, New York
Nyack, New York
Ithaca, New York
Multnomah County, Oregon
Ashbury Park, New Jersey
Cook County, Illinois
New Hope, Pennsylvania
Benton County, Oregon
What You Can Do
These mayors have all said that they support offering same-sex marriage licenses:
Chicago - Richard Daley (D)
Ithaca - Carolyn K. Peterson (D)
Minneapolis - R.T. Rybak (D)
New Paltz, N.Y. - Jason West (Green Party)
Nyack, N.Y. - John Shields (D)
Plattsburgh, N.Y. - Daniel Stewart (R)
San Francisco - Gavin Newsom (D)
Seattle, Washington - Greg Nickels
San Jose, California - Ron Gonzales
Salt Lake City - Ross C. “Rocky” Anderson (D)
Begles, France - Noel Mamere (planning a wedding for two men in June 2004)
There has also been support from various other governing bodies, including:
- Oakland City councilman Danny Wan sponsored a resolution on February 27, 2004, for the county to begin issuing licenses to same-sex couples.
- Washington, D.C., city administrator Robert Bobb in February 2004 said officials are investigating whether they can issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Mayor Anthony Williams voiced his support for same-sex marriage, but also said he was satisfied with the city’s domestic partnership program and would not issue marriage licenses.
- New York City Council Speaker Gifford Miller (D) stated, “Denying same-sex couples the right to marry is unacceptable discrimination, pure and simple.”
- King County (Washington State) executive ” Ron Sims, stated on March 8, 2004: “We should never tell people who love each other, who have entered into a relationship soberly, people who will function for the rest of their lives as one … who will raise children — we should never deny those individuals the right to be married.” [See: Quotes: Legal Marriage]
- San Jose, California Mayor Ron Gonzales co-sponsored a proposal introduced by Ken Yeager, the city’s first openly gay Councilmember on March 8, 2004. It recommends recognizing legal marriage between same-sex couples. Mayor Gonzales: “I think that it’s very important that we respect the marriage relationships of all city employees, and that we make it possible for all spouses to be covered by our various employee benefit packages.”
- Sonoma County supervisors (California) voted for a resolution supporting legal marriage for same-sex couples, and opposition to the proposed federal constitutional amendment on May 3, 2004. The County provides domestic partner benefits to same-and opposite-sex couples.
- Los Angeles passed a resolution supporting same-sex marriage.
- Marin County (California) passed a resolution supporting same-sex marriage.
- San Francisco County passed a resolution supporting same-sex marriage.
- Santa Cruz County (California) passed a resolution supporting same-sex marriage.
- Sebastopol (California) passed a resolution supporting same-sex marriage.
- Mendocino County (California) Board of Supervisors approved a same-sex marriage resolution on October 18, 2005. It opposes any enactment, by the federal or state government, banning access to marriage for same-sex couples. It does not carry any regulatory authority.
- Ukiah City Council (California) unanimously voted to support same-sex marriage equality on November 17, 2005. Three members of the public spoke, all urged the councilmembers to endorse equal rights. Using text from the Mendocino County’s resolution, the city’s version also emphasizes that no religious group would be required to perform marriages disagreeable to its faith. The resolution, brought forth by Councilmembers John McCowen and Mari Rodin, has no legal or civic effect.
- Humboldt County Board of Supervisors (California) passed a resolution supporting same-sex marriage and urging elected officials to quickly enact legislation offering civil marriage. [See: Quotes: Legal Marriage]
San Francisco, California
San Francisco, however, with a unique status as city and county, had the power to issue marriage licenses. Under the direction of mayor Gavin Newsom (D), the licenses were first issued on February 12, 2004. He officiated some of the weddings, including those of his chief of staff and of his policy director.
The first couple invited to receive a license was that of longtime lesbian activists, Del Martin, 83, and Phyllis Lyon, 79, who have been together for 51 years.
They are not the first same-sex couple to be officially married in the United States, as has been widely reported:
First, they are not legally married. California law — like all except for Massachusetts in the U.S. — specifies marriage only for opposite-sex couples. [See our article: Massachusetts offers Legal Marriage]
Secondly, the first same-sex couple to have a legal marriage license was in 1975 in Arizona. [See: Legal Marriage Timeline]
Mayor Newsom ordered the licenses because he was incensed by president Bush’s vow during the State of the Union speech to preserve the “sanctity of traditional” marriage. Newson had studied the Massachusetts Supreme Court decision [See: Massachusetts Finding] that said same-sex couples had a constitutional right to marry. He also read the Supreme Court’s decision in the Texas sodomy case, as well as the California Constitution.
It was California’s equal protection clause that gave him the rationale. He decided that Proposition 22 — the successful 2000 ballot measure that defined marriage as between a man and a woman — was discriminatory and therefore unconstitutional.
Right wing forces sued, in Lewis v. Alfaro, to stop the marriages — Proposition 22 Legal Defense & Education Fund (represented by the Alliance Defense Fund), and the Campaign for California Families. On February 20, 2004, two judges refused to order the requested restraining orders as there was no damage, and said they would later hear the merits of the cases.
California’s governor Arnold Schwarzenegger sent a letter to attorney general Bill Lockyer, calling San Francisco’s actions “an imminent risk to civil order” and demanded that the state attorney general take immediate legal steps to stop the marriages.
There was, of course, no risk to civil order. The licensing process was marked by extreme order, as well as much cooperation as scores of helpers volunteered to be deputized to assist with the license processing. Also, it should be noted that the governor has no power to order the attorney general to do anything.
On February 27, 2004, president Bush instructed the Social Security Administration to ignore name change requests based on marriage licenses issued after February 12, 2004. The order applies to all requests emanating from San Francisco County, including those of opposite-sex couples.
Newly married women or couples often use their marriage licenses when revising their Social Security records to match their new legal names. The procedure should be routine. It can also be achieved with other forms of identification.
Said mayor Newsom about the president’s pettiness:
“What the president did is both political and retaliatory. He is now discriminating against San Franciscans gay and straight. We are consulting with the city attorney and will take immediate steps to get this directive overturned.”
On March 11, 2004, the California Supreme Court, reacting to “stop marriage” suits, ordered a halt to the same-sex marriages and said it would hear a case in May or June on the legality of such marriages. State attorney general Bill Lockyer had asked the seven justices to block the marriages in Lockyer v. City and County of San Francisco.
Also, a coalition of 19 state Republican senators and traditional church groups fired off a petition supporting efforts to gain the stay. Joining the petition are Sen. Dennis Hollingsworth, and Assemblymembers Tim Leslie and Ray Haynes. Among the groups are the Evangelical Free Church in Reedley, the California Family Council and Traditional Values Coalition.
4,161 couples from San Francisco, all over the U.S., and from Europe obtained marriage licenses by the time the halt order was issued on March 11, 2004.
According to state law, their is no right to marry for same-sex couples. These marriages that have been offered by the city/county of San Francisco need to be seen as a form of civil disobedience.
There is a high likelihood these same-sex marriage licenses will eventually be revoked.
And, even if they prove to be valid, they are not likely to be recognized by many, if any, states. This means that divorce would only be possible in California.
Further, these marriages will not in any way be recognized by the federal system, meaning no Social Security survivor benefits, no immigration sponsoring, etc.
On March 12, 2004, Pali Cooper, 48, and her partner Jeanne Rizzo, 57 (together 15 years), Diane Sabin, 51 and her partner Jewel Gomez, 55 (together 11 years), along with four other couples, Our Family Coalition, and Equality California filed suit in San Francisco County Superior Court against California attorney general Bill Lockyer and state registrar Michael Rodrian. Woo v. Lockyer asks the state to require all marriage licenses use gender-neutral language and to make them available to same-sex couples. [See our article: Legal Marriage Court Cases: A Timeline]
On August 12, 2004, the California Supreme Court ruled that San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom did not have the authority to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, and that the licenses issued to 4,161 couples are invalid.
While this ruling is important, but it does not resolve whether same-sex couples have the right to marry and be treated equally under the California Constitution. In its majority opinion, the court said, “To avoid any misunderstanding, we emphasize that the substantive question of the constitutional validity of California’s statutory provisions limiting marriage to a union between a man and a woman is not before our court in this proceeding, and our decision in this case is not intended, and should not be interpreted, to reflect any view on that issue.”
In concurring and dissenting opinions justices Kennard and Werdegar both stated that the fate of the 4,161 marriages should have been made after the pending ruling on the constitutionality issue.
“For many, marriage is the most significant and most highly treasured experience in a lifetime. Individuals in loving same-sex relationships have waited years, sometimes several decades, for a chance to wed, yearning to obtain the public validation that only marriage can give. In recognition of that, this court should proceed most cautiously in resolving the ultimate question of the validity of the same-sex marriages performed in San Francisco, even though those marriages were performed under licenses issued by San Francisco public officials without proper authority and in violation of state law. Because the licenses were issued without proper authorization, and in the absence of a judicial determination that the state laws prohibiting same-sex marriage are unconstitutional, employers and other third parties would be under no legal obligation to recognize the validity of any of the same-sex marriages at issue here. Should the pending lawsuits ultimately be resolved by a determination that the opposite-sex marriage restriction is constitutionally invalid — an issue on which I express no opinion — it would then be the appropriate time to address the validity of previously solemnized same-sex marriages.”
Sandoval County, New Mexico
On February 20, 2004, Sandoval County, New Mexico, county clerk Victoria Dunlap (R) issued licenses to 66 same-sex couples. She claims that there was nothing in New Mexico law preventing the licenses. The state, in fact, has filed 64 legal marriages.
The same afternoon the marriage licenses were issued, State Attorney General Patricia Madrid (D) sent an advisory letter stating that the marriages were invalid. Madrid wrote: “Until the laws are changed through the legislative process or declared unconstitutional by the judicial process, the statutes limit marriage in New Mexico to a man and a woman.”
The motion for a temporary restraining order was filed by Madrid. State District Judge Kenneth Brown, issued a restraining order, on March 23, and set an April 2 hearing on the motion for a permanent injunction. As of June 17, there has yet to be a hearing.
Muddying the waters in Sandoval County, was the fact that county clerk Dunlap had a history of squabbles with the county commissioners — who control her budget, but not her office — and those interactions could overshadow any clear thinking about the New Mexico constitutional right to equal treatment.
Dunlap, a Rio Rancho artist, was not seeking re-election, however made a bid to run for a county commission seat, and lost.
As a result of the one day of licensing, the Republican state chairman, Sen. Ramsay Gorham, called for a statewide, November referendum on a law banning same-sex marriage (a redundancy of existing state law). Governor Bill Richardson (D), expressed his personal opposition to same-sex marriage, but said he wanted to see the issue settled in court and not by referendum. And Archbishop Michael Sheehan, the head of the Catholic Church in New Mexico, expressed opposition to same-sex marriage, astonishingly adding that “we oppose discrimination against gay people.”
Same-sex marriage advocates, such as the Coalition for Equality in New Mexico, were not happy with Dunlap’s issuing licenses. She apparently had not consulted with anyone who, for years, has been working on legal marriage issues. If she had, she would have been advised greater caution because of the expected backlash, and potential for creating bad law, which could prevent legal marriage for same-sex couples in New Mexico for decades.
The Village of New Paltz, N.Y., mayor Jason West (Green Party) officiated a marriage for 24 same-sex couples on February 27, 2004.
There are two legal issues to untangle:
First, whether the mayor violated the law by performing a marriage ceremony, when the couples did not secured a marriage license, and
Secondly, whether the couples would be considered legally married under state law.
It is a misdemeanor crime for a person to perform a marriage if the participants have not secured a marriage license. However, it is far less clear whether that would void the marriage. While the law now defines marriage as opposite-sex, there is no New York law explicitly forbidding marriage between same-sex couples.
Said mayor West on February 27, 2004: “This is the first time a U.S. president has ever tried to change the Constitution in order to restrict someone’s rights. We wanted to participate in this, the greatest flowering of civil rights in a generation.”
However, the New Paltz town clerk refused to grant marriage licenses. Experts and lawmakers, asked for their opinion, disagreed on whether the marriages he performed without licenses were legal.
New York governor George E. Pataki (R) reacted to the marriages by asking the state attorney general to seek a court order to halt the proceedings. But the attorney general, Eliot Spitzer (D), who is considered a likely candidate for governor in 2006, rejected the request.
Attorney general Spitzer said that New York law, while forbidding same-sex marriages, requires recognition of such marriages performed elsewhere.
“We will not seek an injunction against either the mayor of New Paltz, or any other mayor solemnizing marriages in the state,” Mr. Spitzer said on February 27, 2004. He said he would seek an injunction only in cases where irreparable harm, like bodily injury, was threatened. He did not believe that was the case in New Paltz.
However, the district attorney of Ulster County, Donald A. Williams, charged the mayor with 19 criminal counts [People v. West]. The punishment could run from a $25-to-500 fine or jail time. Williams said a jail term wasn’t being contemplated at this point.
There are 19 charges — instead of 25 for the number of weddings performed — because police at the scene provided eyewitness accounts of only 19 ceremonies. Williams said he could add counts if West marries more couples.
On March 15, 2004, Williams also charged Kay Greenleaf and Dawn Sangrey, both Unitarian Universalist ministers, with “solemnizing a marriage without a license” when they married 13 same-sex couples in New Paltz on March 6.
It was reported that Williams decided to charge the two because the marriages they performed were “drastically different” from religious ceremonies, and because the two said they considered the marriages they performed to be civil and legal.
The district attorney’s actions beg three questions: First, why would a “drastically different” ceremony be any more or less criminal? If drastically different, what difference would it make anyway? And, third, since when is legality based solely on someone allegedly claiming it was legal?
Barbara Cox, a law professor at California Western School of Law opined that Greenleaf and Sangrey will be difficult to convict. Since the ministers “have no authority to make a marriage legally valid, how can you say they’ve broken the law?“
The New York City Bar Association had written a paper which stated that New York’s domestic relations laws are so vague and gender-neutral that same-sex marriages can be allowed. However, the New York State Bar Association has yet to issue an opinion on the matter.
Billiam van Roestenberg and Jeffrey S. McGowan became the first couple to be wed. As of March 3, 2004, 25 couples have been wed and a staff of six volunteers answering phones has scheduled more than 100 to be wed in the following week.
Nyack mayor John Shields sued New York State, on March 12, 2004, for denying him a license to marry his same-sex partner in New Paltz on March 4. And on April 7, 2004, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit asking the courts to declare unconstitutional a state law that denies same-sex couples the right to marry. [Please see our article: Legal Marriage Timeline]
On June 7, 2004, a state Supreme Court judge permanently barred mayor Jason West from marrying same-sex couples who do not have licenses. Ulster County Supreme Court Justice Michael Kavanagh wrote that either the legislature, or the courts, must make the decision regarding who may marry in the state of New York. Kavanagh limited his decision to the issue of marrying couples without a license, however, he did not address whether same-sex marriage should be legal.
On June 10, 2004, New Paltz town justice Jonathan D. Katz dismissed the criminal prosecution against the mayor Jason West of New Paltz, N.Y., who married gay couples without marriage licenses, saying a state law banning same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. This appears to be the first time a New York court has found that the marriage law violates the rights of same-sex couples. The judgement does not, however, have the effect of invalidating the anti-marriage law, or give an immediate opportunity to wed.
Justice Katz wrote in People v. West
“I am familiar with the arguments raised in the cases from other states addressing this issue and I understand the historical, cultural and religious opposition to same-sex marriage, but find that none of the reasons stated in opposition to same-sex marriage is paramount to the equal protection guarantees enshrined in the state and federal constitutions.”
On June 17, 2004, the deputy mayor and a trustee of the Hudson Valley village of New Paltz presided over the marriages of four same-sex couples. Deputy mayor Rebecca Rotzler and trustee Julia Walsh officiated at the ceremonies. Walsh said she plans to preside over more marriages the following weekend because the ruling in People v. West encouraged her.
Trustee Julia Walsh:
“We will not stop until all Americans have equal protection under the law.”
Deputy mayor Rebecca Rotzler, who is of Alaskan ancestry, said her biracial parents married when it was considered illegal for them to do so:
“I have never had anything but full support for the couples who have come here knowing they will find elected officials who stand by their constitutional rights.”
By June 21, 2004, a total of 160 same-sex marriages have taken place.
On June 24, 2004, the radical, right-wing legal group, Liberty Counsel, filed a lawsuit to invalidate the New Paltz marriages, and to stop village officials from conducting further same-sex marriages. Judge Michael Kavanagh signed a temporary order blocking more weddings and set a July 19, 2004 court date.
On July 12, 2005, Ulster County District Attorney Donald Williams dropped all charges (some report had 24, rather than 19 charges) against mayor Jason West, who could have faced up to a year in jail for marrying the same-sex couples on the steps of the village hall. Williams said he dropped the charges because he believed a trial would be unnecessary and divisive.
John Shields (D), the mayor of Nyack in Rockland County, said his village will respect the legal marriages of same-sex couple performed in other states or countries because he understands the need to treat gay couples equally.
In late February mayor Shields stated:
“I don’t understand how extending marriage to same-gender couples undermines traditional marriage and weakens community. On the contrary, I believe personal commitments strengthen community”
On March 12, 2004, mayor John Shields sued New York State for denying him a license to marry his same-sex partner on March 4. [See our article: Legal Marriage Court Cases: A Timeline]
In Minneapolis, mayor R.T. Rybak (D) issued a proclamation in favor of treating gay couples the
same as heterosexuals.
In Ithaca, mayor Carolyn K. Peterson (D) said, in March 2, 2004, that the town clerk would accept marriage applications by same-sex couples and forward them to the state’s Department of Health for a ruling on whether they could be granted. In doing so, she said, she would force the issue into the courts.
Mayor Peterson said: “I firmly believe that same-sex partners should have equal protection as other married couples do.”
The mayor also said that the city will recognize same-sex marriages “validly performed elsewhere.” Couples in such marriages, and their families, will “be accorded all of the rights and all of the legal obligations as those who have been parties to traditional marriages.”
Further, city Attorney Martin A. Luster stated that, if there is a lawsuit brought by anyone who is denied a license by the state of New York, Ithaca would join it seeking access to legal marriage.
Basic Rights Oregon, the largest gay rights group in the state, asked Multnomah County commissioners in January, 2004, to investigate the legality of same-sex marriages under the state constitution. On March 2, 2004, county officials released this statement: “Based on a legal opinion released today by the county attorney, a majority of the Board of County Commissioners supports a policy change to allow the county to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.”
Usually, couples must wait three days after obtaining a license before being officially married, however, the rule has been routinely waived upon request, so may be waived now for same-sex couples. Those wishing to marry were allowed to do so beginning March 3, 2004.
Oregon state attorney general Hardy Myers issued a non-binding written opinion on March 12, 2004, that said current state law forbids counties from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. He also said that banning same-sex marriage probably violates Oregon’s constitution, effectively placing the issue in the hands of the state’s highest court. He said the state will not require the county to stop issuing licenses.
Benton county had been poised to follow Multnomah County — see listing below.
March 24, 2004, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed, in the Multnomah County Circuit Court, a lawsuit intended to test the legality of forbidding legal same-sex marriage. The ACLU filed on behalf of nine same-sex couples who say the state violated their rights under the Oregon Constitution by not registering their marriages with the Office of Vital Statistics.
Multnomah Circuit Court judge Frank Bearden, on March 26, turned down a request by 14 Republican legislators in their attempt to join the lawsuit using a “motion to intervene.”. He said he rejected it because it would slow down proceedings, which demanded a prompt decision.
The Republican representatives include: Cliff Zauner (Woodburn), Tom Butler (Ontario), Betsy Close (Albany), Gordon Anderson (Grants Pass), Linda Flores (Clackamas), Bill Garrard (Klamath Falls), Wayne Krieger (Gold Beach), Tim Knopp (Bend), Randy Miller (West Linn), Tootie Smith (Mollala), Phil Yount (Tigard), and Mary Gallegos (Cornelius).
Also included were Republican Senators Charles Starr (Hillsboro), and Gary George (Newberg), as well as former Republican state Rep. Jeff Kruse of Roseburg, who is running for the state Senate.
The case was expected to eventually go to the Oregon Supreme Court.
The marriage certificates of the same-sex couples have been put aside by Oregon State officials until a court decision is made on their validity. The state has accepted the certificates, but will not certify them, leaving all the same-sex couples in legal limbo.
On April 20, 2004, Multnomah County Circuit Judge Frank Bearden ordered the marriage licensing to halt. Bearden declared Oregon’s marital ban to be unconstitutional and gave lawmakers 90 days after the start of the next legislative session to fashion a law that would balance the rights of all.
While couples can no longer get a license, the judge ordered the state to process the licenses already obtained. Judge Bearden stated that “Failing to register same-sex marriage licenses and solemnization certificates is a direct violation of the law. The State Registrar was ordered to accept and register marriages that have been performed.”
He stated that an Oregon Supreme Court ruling is needed to determine whether same-sex marriage should be allowed, and that “public debate and legislative action may be required to carry out the court’s mandate.” He also stated that he believes the Oregon constitution “would allow either a civil union or (marriage) privileges to same-sex couples.”
County Commissioner Serena Cruz issued a statement after the ruling was announced:
“Judge Bearden held that Oregon’s marriage statute is unconstitutional. We cannot deny same sex couples access to the privileges, rights and responsibilities that are granted to straight couples.
The Associated Press reviewed the names and addresses of the 1,983 couples who obtained marriage licenses between March 3 and March 12, the last date for which data were available. At least 1,252
appeared to be for female couples, or about 63 percent. At least 494 male couples got licenses, or 24 percent. There were at least 12 male-female couples. The gender makeup of the remaining 225 couples could not immediately be determined from their names.
“Judge Beardon also found that the State of Oregon has violated the law by not registering the lawful marriage licenses issued in Multnomah County and ordered them to begin to register the licenses.
“I am thrilled that 3,000 married couples will get the full legal recognition that they deserve. Based on Judge Bearden’s decision, the State has been ordered to accept and register all marriage licenses issued in Multnomah County.”
By March 23, 2004, more than 2,400 same-sex couples from around the nation were married in Portland. As of April 20, 3,022 marriage licenses were approved.
On May 27, 2004, Oregon Attorney General Hardy Myers appealed the April ruling that ordered the state to recognize the 3,022 marriage licenses issued to same-sex couples. It seeks to also overturn the ruling that gave the state 90 days to provide same-sex couples with either marriage or the legal equivalent.
In his ruling, judge Frank Bearden also ordered the county to stop issuing more marriage licenses to same-sex couples until the courts and the legislature made a final decision on same-sex marriage. Bearden’s ruling said that if the legislature failed to act he would allow the licensing to resume.
By June 2, 2004, the Oregon Court of Appeals issued a temporary stay on registering the same-sex marriages.
On April 14, 2005, the Oregon Supreme Court nullified the 3,022 same-sex, legal marriages performed in Multnomah County.
Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels signed an order on March 8, 2004, extending city benefits to same-sex couples with marriage licenses from other states. Nickels said, “Seattle has often been in the forefront of protecting all its citizens, regardless of sexual orientation.” He also proposed an ordinance that would prohibit discrimination on the basis of marital status, giving same-sex married
couples protection from bias in employment, housing, or the use of city facilities.
Since 1989, gay and lesbian city employees have been eligible for full domestic partnership benefits, including medical and retirement. Under the new executive order, same-sex couples would only need to say they were married and not be required to fill out paperwork to prove the relationship.
Seattle already prohibits employment and housing discrimination based on sexual orientation and marital status. The new proposal clarifies martial status to include same-sex marriages.
The city’s protections for same-sex married couples, the proposed ordinance that now goes to the City Council, would require businesses that contract with the city to treat their gay married employees the same as their (presumably) heterosexual married employees.
Ron Sims, King County (Washington) executive wrote:
The order mayor Greg Nickels signed — Executive Order: 02-04 City Recognition of Valid Marriage Licenses — was followed up with the following letter:
“My oath of office requires me to uphold the law and I will not issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples as long as state law prohibits it. Yet I believe the Defense of Marriage Act is wrong and violates equal protection under the law.|
“In 2004, gays and lesbians cannot realize the blessing of marriage equality. Today’s laws offer no protection for same-sex couples who have to make urgent health-care decisions when one partner is ill or dying. Today’s laws offer no protection regarding inheritance, benefits and insurance for the surviving partner of same-sex couples. Today’s laws must be changed. Equality for all cannot be achieved if equality for some is denied, and discrimination anywhere makes it that much easier for discrimination to flourish everywhere.
“My great-grandparents, who were slaves, could not marry because it was against the law. Decisions by the courts changed that. Prior to 1967, my own marriage would not have been possible because interracial marriage was illegal. Decisions by the courts changed that, too. We still have discrimination in this state when it comes to marriage. I believe the court decision on this issue will also be just, and will change the law.”
Ron Sims, King County executive, ordained Baptist minister
excerpt from his guest column in the Seattle Times, March 11, 2004
Six same-sex couples sued King County on March 8, 2004, for the right to marry after they were denied marriage licenses. The suit charges that the state’s so-called “Defense of Marriage Act” law denies equal protection under the state constitution.
Beginning today, the City of Seattle will recognize same sex marriages for all City employees. In addition, Councilmember Tom Rasmussen and I have proposed an ordinance to extend these same protections to others throughout Seattle.
This is the right thing to do. Our actions today represent a major step in Seattle to fulfilling our nation’s promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all of our citizens.
The executive order will give everyone who works for Seattle City government and is married equal rights regardless of whether they are straight or Gay. Some benefits include health benefits, family and medical leave benefits, disability, and retirement.
The ordinance, to be sent to the City Council later this week, would provide couples in same sex marriages throughout the city the same rights and protections guaranteed to people in heterosexual marriages.
To learn more about the executive order and the proposed ordinance, please visit www.seattle.gov/mayor.
While the City does not have the power to issue marriage licenses, we must protect the rights of all of our citizens, regardless of sexual orientation. Today’s announcement reinforces the City of Seattle’s commitment to equal rights for all.
This is about fairness. People who are willing to make a commitment to one another, who love one another and who are, willing to take on the responsibilities of marriage ought to be able to. Again, thank you for writing to express your feelings about this human rights issue. Together we will ensure the protection and dignity for all our citizens.
Mayor of Seattle
March 8, 2004
On April 1, 2004, a second suit was launched by eleven couples who wish to wed in Washington, or have their marriages recognized under Washington law. [See our article: Legal Marriage Court Cases: A Timeline]
A same-sex couple were married in city hall on March 8, 2004, after being issued a license by city officials who claim New Jersey law does not explicitly ban such unions. Louis Navarrete, 42, and Ric Best, 44, of Asbury Park, were wed in the City Council chambers by deputy mayor James Bruno. The couple have been together since 1989.
A written statement from city clerk Dawn Tomek, March 8, 2004:
“As a show of support to the city’s gay community and the gay community nationwide, the City of Asbury Park has determined that it will commence the issuance of licenses to same-sex couples and the solemnization of marriage between same-sex couples, immediately, as a matter of fundamental civil and constitutional rights.”
By March 9, 2004, 16 marriage applications had been completed and were in the required three-day waiting period before a wedding can take place.
Also on March 9, the day after the Navarrete-Best marriage was performed, state attorney general Peter C. Harvey ordered city officials to stop issuing marriage licenses and performing marriages for same-sex couples, or face criminal charges. He also warned that the marriage licenses issued to same-sex couples are invalid.
On March 10, the Asbury Park City Council voted, 5-0, to stop taking applications from gay couples seeking marriage licenses, and also to file a lawsuit seeking a court ruling allowing them to resume. The council also voted not to expend public funds on the lawsuit, but to seek funding from gay rights organizations.
The city’s suit claimed that the state may not constitutionally prohibit same-sex marriages. Asbury Park was itself then sued by the radical, right-wing American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ).
After a case management conference in Superior Court, both the city and the ACLJ decided to drop their actions, and focus instead on the ongoing suit for legal marriage in New Jersey. Ashbury Park then joined the suit for marriage that had been launched in 2002. [Please see Lewis et. al. v. Harris et. al. in Legal Marriage Court Cases - A Timeline]
1,000 University of Chicago students petitioned the Cook County clerk’s office on March 10, 2004, to issue same-sex marriage licenses.
On March 9, 2004, the New Hope Borough Council passed a resolution asking Bucks County to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples and the state to allow such marriages.
Benton County commissioners voted 2-1, on March 16, 2004, to issue marriage licenses for same-sex couples starting on March 24.
By March 22, the commissioners voted unanimously to postpone issuing all marriage licenses until a Multnomah County Circuit Court judge decides if same-sex civil marriages are constitutional. They did so because of the threat of a suit by Oregon Attorney General Hardy Myers.
On March 18, 2004, a suit was filed in Benton County Circuit Court, which asks the county to issue licenses only as allowed by state laws, or to prove why it is not following the statute, and to resume issuing opposite-sex marriage licenses. It was submitted by attorneys representing the Defense of Marriage Coalition, a nonprofit corporation also known as the Oregon Family Council, as well as eight Benton County residents.
On June 23, 2004, a second suit was filed by Benton County couple, Orin Nusbaum and Amanda Fanger, against the county board of commissioners and the county clerk to compel the clerk to issue opposite-sex marriage licenses.
Benton County was about to become the second county in Oregon to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Multnomah County issued licenses to same-sex couples on March 4, 2004.
On March 24, 2004, a suit was filed challenging the constitutionality of Oregon’s current marriage statutes. See the Multnomah entry listed above.
By February 27, 2004, president Bush instructed the U.S. government’s Social Security Administration to reject all all legal marriages licenses issued in Multnomah County, New Paltz, Asbury Park, N.J., and Sandoval County, N.M.
The blanket dismissal also affected up to as many as 130 opposite-sex couples in New Paltz, who face income tax issues or benefit losses if the situation isn’t resolved.
The Social Security Administration since reversed course and announced on December 20, 2004, that it will accept marriage licenses issued for “heterosexual” couples in communities in New York and Oregon. Of course, they have no way of knowing who is gay and who is not. They are only able to assume that some are same-sex and others are opposite-sex couples.
Talk, Talk, Talk
The best counter to prejudice and ignorance is one-on-one education. Telling blood relatives, co-workers, and friends why we need legal marriage. Most do not realize you have no legal status, are not next of kin.
For a review of the main issues regarding legal marriage, please see our:
“Legal Marriage Primer: Read this if you don’t read another thing about legal marriage”
Contact senators and representatives with the reasons why we need legal marriage.
Because legal marriage is a contract between the state and a couple — and not between the couple and any religion — it must be considered as any other legal agreement and be made available to everyone.
In many right-wing circles, the discussion regarding legal marriage never enters the realm of civil law. For them, it is a narrowly focused Biblical, or religious discussion. This means that the debate is not one of civil rights, but rather one that of dogma.
See our article which includes answers to arguments heard against legal marriage:
“Most Compelling Reasons for Legal Marriage”
E-mail the U.S. president:
U.S. House of Representatives:
Write Your Representative
All congressional contacts:
Contacting the Congress
The best remedy to injustice is voting for those who support civil rights.
Register to vote.
Evaluate candidate’s based on their support of same-sex couples.
You do not need to be a registered voter to tell your representatives what to do. However, you would be able to vote better people into office if you register.
On-line voter registration:
To support ongoing legal marriage efforts in your state:
Freedom to Marry Affiliate Organizations
Legally Protect You Family
Your family should be legally protected by wills, powers of attorney, physician’s directives, and relationship agreements. These are the barest of supports, until legal marriage is available in the U.S.
See our article:
Legal Precautions to Protect Your Relationship
Also, see our articles that are written from a personal perspective
about the San Francisco civil marriage disobedience:
Gay Dads Take Vows by Chris Caldwell
Spouses for Life? by Patrick Letellier