On March 8 the Washington State Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in two same-sex marriage cases. In both cases the lower courts ruled that Washington's state DOMA violated the state constitution and that same-sex couples had a right to marry in Washington. In the first case, Andersen v. King County, eight same-sex couples, represented by Lambda Legal and the Northwest Women's Law Center, filed suit against King County (which includes Seattle) because they were denied marriage licenses. Judge William Downing ruled (pdf) that the fundamental right to marry includes the right to choose whom to marry and the state had no rational, let alone compelling, interest in restricting that right here. In the second case, Castle v. State, eleven same-sex couples, represented by the ACLU of Washington, similarly filed suit against the state. In that case Judge Richard Hicks ruled (pdf) that by not allowing same-sex couples to marry the state was violating the Privileges and Immunities clause of the Washington State Constitution again as there was little in the way of state interests for the ban.
Both judges noted that it would seem quite possible that the state Equal Rights Amendment might also forbid the restriction, but they were bound by an earlier 1974 decision Singer v. Hara (pdf) of an intermediate Washington court which ruled that since marriage was by definition between a man and a woman there was no discrimination. They also both noted that said decision has come in for much criticism for failing to engage in any analysis and based on more recent cases seemed to be on shaky ground, but they were still bound by it. They practically invited the State Supreme Court, though, to overturn that decision. The Court will certainly have that opportunity when it renders its decision on these cases sometime in the coming year.
I am a firm believer that denying same-sex couples the right to marry makes an impermissible classification based on sex and is hence unconstitutional in almost the exact same way the California Supreme Court in 1948 found racial classifications in marriage impermissible. (See my post on Perez v. Sharp or my posts on sex discrimination). Some people, like Professor Jack Balkin, feel this argument has a disadvantage in that it's not really sex discrimination but rather sexual orientation discrimination. Well, there is a great amicus brief being (pdf) filed in the Washington cases by NOW and other women's rights organizations that explains how sex discrimination and sexual orientation discrimination are linked and how denying same-sex couples the right to marry is detrimental to all who wish to be free from traditional gender stereotypes. I am hopeful the court will make use of this brief to strike down Singer.
[For more information on the numerous amicus briefs filed in support of the couples see this press release from Lambda.]