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Eye On Olympia

Waiting for the Supremes…

For weeks, reporters, lawyers, gay and lesbian people, church groups and state lawmakers have made a Wednesday-evening ritual of checking the state Supreme Court’s website. That’s the time when the court posts the names of the cases that it rules on each Thursday morning.

The cases that all those people are waiting for are Andersen v. King County and Castle v. State. The two cases — combined by the high court since they cover similar issues — challenge whether Washington’s ban on same-sex marriage (the Defense of Marriage Act) violates the state constitution. Among the plaintiffs: a Spokane lesbian couple.

But no matter what the ruling is, some legislative leaders say, it’s unlikely that if the court tosses the matter back into the Statehouse that the Legislature has the votes to do much of anything.

If the ban is upheld as constitutional, Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown said this week, it’s highly unlikely that gay-marriage supporters in the statehouse could muster the supermajority needed to trigger a statewide vote to change the constitution.

If the ban is ruled unconstitutional and the justices refer the matter back to lawmakers, “I don’t think there are enough votes out there for anything else, either,” said Brown, D-Spokane. Not for legislation explicitly allowing same-sex marriage, nor for civil unions, she said.

“I honestly think the public needs to debate the issue more,” she said.

Personally, she said, “I don’t see the justification for denying the rights and responsibilities and the civil contract to same-sex couples.”

But both she and House Speaker Frank Chopp said that Democratic lawmakers — who hold the majority in both the House and Senate — remain deeply divided over the issue.

“There’s no consensus achieved at all,” said Chopp.


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Richard Roesler covers Washington state news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Olympia.

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