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Seattle's Recognition of marriages, civil unions of Gay employees faces court challenge - City to defend Mayor's 2004 Executive Order
Seattle's Recognition of marriages, civil unions of Gay employees faces court challenge - City to defend Mayor's 2004 Executive Order
by Robert Raketty - SGN Staff Writer

The Pacific Justice Institute (PJI), a conservative California-based legal defense organization, has renewed its effort to prohibit the City of Seattle from recognizing the marriages and civil unions of its employees in same-sex relationships.

Since Mayor Greg Nickels signed an executive order in 2004, the partners of Gay city employees who have entered into such arrangements in other jurisdictions have been provided the same benefits offered to the spouses of heterosexual employees.

PJI had joined a lawsuit brought by Randall W. Leskovar, pastor of Calvary Chapel West Seattle, shortly after Nickels order took affect. That case was dismissed by a King County Superior Court judge and was later shelved by the Washington State Court of Appeals.

The filing with the Court of Appeals on Monday by Darren Clayton Walker, a Vancouver attorney at the Law Office of Richard S. Ross, seeks to join and incorporate by reference the Opening Brief of co-Appellant Leskovar, filed in late October, 2004. Not including Leskovar, who is represented separately, PJI represents 11 appellants in their lawsuit against the city.

In their brief, they argue that Nickels had acted in defiance of the 1998 Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between one man and one woman, and lacked the authority to recognize the marriages and civil unions of same-sex couples.

Mayor Nickels and the members of the City Council are certainly entitled to voice their opinions in opposition to the States support for traditional marriage, the brief reads. They are not entitled, however, to undermine the Defense of Marriage Act by creating their own fiefdom in which they can act as though the DOMA did not exist.

The Mayors Director of Communications, Marianne Bichsel, said the city will defend Nickels executive order. I cant comment specifically because this is an ongoing legal matter, but we are going to defend our right to do this, she said. The mayor is confident that not only the actions that we have done to recognize same-sex marriages is the right thing to do, but that it will be upheld against any legal action.

State Rep. Jamie Pedersen (D-Seattle), who is also an attorney, told the Seattle Gay News on Wednesday that he believed the city had acted within its rights. The City of Seattle clearly has the right to make decisions about its employee benefit policies, he said. This case is about what documentation the city requires of city employees for them to get benefits for other people. All that the city has said is that people who are legally married elsewhere can use their marriage certificates to satisfy the documentation requirements.

The Supreme Court in the Heinsma case said that cities may grant benefits to same-sex partners of city employees, so the city is on solid legal ground. The Court of Appeals should uphold the trial court's dismissal of the case.

The lawsuit is particularly timely because state lawmakers are likely to pass legislation this session that would extend a few of the rights of marriage to same-sex couples and senior citizens. In a narrow decision last summer, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled to uphold DOMA, but left open the door for the Legislature to strike down the law or create marriage-like arrangements.

We are hard at work doing what the Supreme Court told us we could do in the Legislature: protecting same-sex couples and their families at the state level, added Pedersen.

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