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Same-sex marriage rulings greeted with excitement in Washington

Paula Wissel

Many people in Washington state are reacting with excitement to the news that the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act and reinstated the right for gays and lesbians in California to marry. 

Last fall, Washington became one of 12 states to allow same-sex couples to marry when voters passed Referendum 74. The court Wednesday declined to rule on California's Proposition 8, which had banned gay marriage. That means a lower-court decision striking it down is still in effect, making California the 13th state to allow gays and lesbians to marry. 

Of course, same-sex marriage is still a hotly debated topic. Referendum 74 passed in Washington state 54 percent to 46 percent. In King County, 67 percent of voters approved same-sex marriage, but in Pierce County, the measure was narrowly defeated, 50.4 percent to 49.6 percent. 

Valerie Curtis-Newton said she could hardly describe her excitement about the DOMA decision. Curtis-Newton married her wife Kim Powell in Connecticut in 2009 after watching California voters pass Proposition 8, stripping Californian gays and lesbians of the right to marry. 

Equally protected

"I'm so excited to actually file a joint tax return, and the idea that should one of us pass away, the other one wouldn't have to go through a lot of hoops to get survivor benefits on the Social Security moneys we've already paid in," Curtis-Newton said. "And the idea that we could be equally protected under the law. It's something that's hard to even put into words." 

The rulings don't go so far as to allow same-sex couples to marry across the country. That's still up to each individual state. So according to Sarah Dunne, legal director of the ACLU of Washington, it will take some time to apply all federal benefits to couples who live in states that bar gay marriage. Up till now, some benefits have been applied based on where couples got married and others applied based on where same-sex couples live. 

"There will be certain federal benefits that it will take a bit of time for the administration to make sure that things are applied equally across the country," Dunne said. "I think this decision makes clear that it is discriminatory and unfair to treat married same-sex couples differently from heterosexual couples, and I presume the administration and courts will be moving quickly to fix that."

'Love and equality prevail'

Reaction from local politicians was quick and celebratory. Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn wrote in a statement that "love and equality prevail." The city had submitted amicus briefs in the DOMA case because the law forced the city to tax employees in same-sex marriages differently from employees in opposite-sex marriages. 

Seattle City Council President Sally Clark wrote in a statement that she's elated. 

"It's been a long, hard fight, and we've prevailed," she wrote. 

Senator Patty Murray, who voted to pass the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, has since rejected the law and tried to reverse it. She said in a press release that today's ruling "is a true demonstration that the tide is turning." 

Rainbow cupcakes

For Cupcake Royale owner Jody Hall, today is a big milestone in a long fight for equality.  She and her wife Kelly Ring are planning to get their official marriage license in September on the fourth anniversary of their wedding ceremony. 

Credit Cupcake Royale
Cupcake Royale's Cupcake of the Month - 'the Gay'

Hall says as a business owner contributing to the local economy, it’s been frustrating to feel marginalized.

"We have 115 employees, we pay health care, we're doing all the right things, we donate 50,000 cupcakes a year, yet I am a second-class citizen," Hall said. "Yet I'm a leader in our community. So why is that? Constitutionally it makes so much sense that this measure of equality is moving forward. I'm proud to be an American today, for sure."

Hall’s employees are busy baking cupcakes called “the Gay” - decorated with little rainbows and multi-colored sprinkles. She says they were baking the cupcakes in preparation for this weekend’s Gay Pride parade, but now with the same-sex marriage court rulings, there’s even more demand. 

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.
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