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Volume 34
Issue 07
 
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Bellevue marriage equality forum draws hundreds
Bellevue marriage equality forum draws hundreds
Distinguished panel offered diversity of opinions

by Sarah Luthens - Special to the SGN

Over 200 people packed the Bellevue First United Methodist Church on Wednesday, February 15th, for a marriage equality forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters, the American Constitution Society - Puget Sound Lawyers Chapter, the King County Bar Association, and other ally and LGBT groups.

King County Television recorded it for broadcast both on Comcast Digital Cable Station 22 and for broadcast on TVW. This program, "Marriage Equality: The role of the courts, the legislature, and the people" is expected to available soon on their websites: www.metrokc.gov/CTV and www.tvw.org.

Radio personality Dave Ross moderated the forum, which featured a range of voices on the issue. Our side was extremely well represented by ACLU-WA plaintiff couple Judy Fleissner and Chris Gamache, NW Women's Law Center Executive Director Lisa Stone, and Phil Talmadge who has served both as a justice on the Washington State Supreme Court and as a state senator.

As described in a positive article in the King County Journal (2/16/06), Judy Fleissner and Chris Gamache have been together 15 years. They are raising a son and a daughter together. Judy works as a police officer for the City of Bellevue. She described how she was not allowed to take family medical leave when Chris gave birth. Nor would she be able to take funeral leave if Chris died. Nor would Chris be able to receive spousal benefits if Judy were to die in the line of duty.

Judy and Chris effectively highlighted some of the indignities and real harm resulting from being denied the right to access marriage (and the lack of domestic partner benefits for Bellevue city employees).

Lisa Stone, who is also an attorney, stressed the proper role of the courts in determining marriage equality. "Our nation's government was designed specifically to protect individuals from the tyranny of the majority and the tyranny of the government," she said. "When married women wanted to exercise their right to space their children and use contraception, the legislatures wanted to stop them, and it was the courts that upheld their constitutional right to decide whether and when to have a child."

At this point the crowd broke into thunderous applause.

Lisa went on to conclude, "That's also why the question - whether marriage should be reserved to a few or available to all consenting adults - properly belongs before the Court; because our state constitution guarantees equality, fundamental rights and equal treatment. The court's unique function is to ensure those rights are meaningful for all Washingtonians. We should not settle for anything less."

Phil Talmadge, a former state Supreme Court Justice, gave insight as to how that institution actually makes decisions. He said the court almost always issues its decision on a Thursday, and it gives a "heads up" the day before as to which decisions will be issued with a message on its website: www.courts.wa.gov

As a former state senator, Talmadge said that sometimes the state Legislature passes laws that it knows is unconstitutional. He also identified four factors that might affect the long-awaited decision in the Andersen/Castle marriage equality lawsuit, including the fact that three of the Justices will face statewide re-election this November.

The opposition was represented by Families Northwest President Jeff Kemp, attorney Steve O'Ban, and intervenor Rev. Harvey Drake. Their argument rested primarily on idealized gender roles and supposed harm to "future generations of children who will be sent a message that fathers aren't important."

During the question-and-answer period, DontAmend.com-WA's Bill Dubay pointedly asked the opposition's attorney if he would be willing to have his heterosexual marriage be downgraded to a "civil union." O'Ban said that would not be good enough for him and his wife.

Drawing the most laughter of the evening was Stone's response to the question of whether marriage equality for same-sex couples would eventually lead to legalized polygamy. She said, "This question is about whom we can love and marry, not how many!"

This forum was also co-sponsored by the ACLU-WA; QLaw: The LGBT Bar Association of WA state; The NW Women's Law Center; Equal Rights WA; the Religious Coalition for Equality; and Lambda Legal.

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