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Washington State Gay Catholics to continue working for Marriage Equality despite disappointing State Supreme Court ruling

July 28, 2006 — DignityUSA, the foremost organization for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) Catholics along with our families, friends, straight allies, and other supportive people of faith, and Dignity/Seattle, the local chapter, expressed profound disappointment over the Washington State Supreme Court decision on July 26, 2006, upholding the 1998 state "Defense of Marriage Act" (DOMA). The decision overruled previous rulings by King County and Thurston County Courts in 2004 that found DOMA unconstitutional.

"After this bitter disappointment, we have to channel our anger into constructive, forward-looking action," commented Leo Egashira, spokesperson for Dignity/Seattle.  The close 5-4 decision and the extreme range of positions represented by the six written opinions strongly suggest that the matter will be open to judicial scrutiny again in the future. In the near term, however, Marriage Equality advocates will refocus the struggle from the judiciary to the legislative arena, which will require a much more concerted effort to line up supporters against considerable Republican opposition. State Representative Ed Murray (D-Seattle), who successfully shepherded the GLBT Civil Rights Bill in January 2006, promised to introduce a Marriage Equality Bill in January 2007. Governor Christine Gregoire (D) has indicated her openness to sign such a bill, were it to reach her desk after legislative approval.

Egashira said that, in this next legislative stage of the struggle, "Dignity/Seattle will work proactively with organizations such as the Religious Coalition for Equality-a network of over 200 Washington State religious leaders-to protect newly won GLBT civil rights and to advocate for marriage equality rights. As the only Catholic voice in the state with the conviction and courage to challenge the church hierarchy publicly, Dignity/Seattle has an important role to play in the on-going effort to make marriage equality a reality in Washington."

Just one week prior to the court's decision, the Archbishop of Seattle filed an amicus (friend of the court) brief supporting DOMA. Countering some of the Archbishop's points, which will undoubtedly be raised again, Egashira asserted: "The best way for a progressive, caring society to avoid the 'inevitable collision with religion' is to separate the two completely: Allow consenting adults to enter into civil marriage, while at the same time, continue to allow churches to sanction only those marriages which meet their particular religious criteria. How can such an arrangement be construed as an infringement of 'the free practice of religion in Washington State?,'" Egashira asked.

Egashira continued, "The Archbishop's assertion that 'the state has the responsibility for the common good' is the perfect reason for legalizing marriage equality. Inviting and welcoming the increasing numbers of committed same-sex couples and families into the institution of marriage is the best exemplar of ensuring the common good. I'm mystified why the hierarchy fears that a more inclusive definition of marriage weakens the institution. Increasing the number of heretofore excluded couples, children, and families as stakeholders can only strengthen the role and importance of marriage in society."

Debbie Weill, Executive Director of the national organization DignityUSA, also expressed disappointment in the ruling. She stated: "We have been working for many years in DignityUSA and our local Dignity chapters for the right to civil marriage. We believe that as Americans who fulfill our obligations in every way as citizens, we are entitled to the fundamental human right to marry a partner of our choosing. This mistaken court decision in Washington State will delay the cause of full equality for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people across the nation."

Weill continued: "As Catholics, we also believe that our love has a divine source, that it is sacramental in nature, and that it should be celebrated as such by our Church. Along with many others, we are working to spread the news that there are millions of GLBT people of faith who believe that their sexuality and their relationships are a gift from God. But we also believe in the separation of church and state, and that religious views must not be used to deny gay people their fundamental civil rights as American citizens."

DignityUSA is the nation’s foremost organization of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Catholics, their families, friends and supporters. Founded in 1969, it is an independent nonprofit organization with members and chapters across the country. DignityUSA works for full inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people in the life of the Church and Society.

Dignity/Seattle has served GLBT Catholics and their supporters in Seattle and Western Washington since 1973. It sponsors a liturgy on the second Sunday of the month at 6:00 p.m. at Ravenna United Methodist Church, 5751-33rd Ave NE in