In Our View: A Milestone for Equality

Same-sex marriage licenses will be issued on Thursday; Washington leads the way

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Washington again proudly marches at the front of an American parade, this time as a model state for voter-approved same-sex marriages. Marriage licenses for same-sex couples will be issued on Thursday, and after the required three-day waiting period, ceremonies for same-sex couples will be conducted on Sunday, Dec. 9.The Columbian enlisted in this march years ago, often declaring that in a decade or two, folks will wonder what all that commotion was about back in 2012. Like many issues in equality's evolution, subsequent generations will view this right as standard.

The road to marriage equality:

2006 — After falling short of legislative approval for three decades, a gay civil rights measure was approved by the Legislature. Later in the year, a state Supreme Court ruling upheld a 1998 law banning same-sex marriage.

2007 — The state’s first domestic partnership law was passed by the Legislature, extending about two dozen legal rights to same-sex couples.

2008 — The law was expanded to include more legal rights.

2009 — The Legislature approved the “everything but marriage” law. Voters upheld the law later that year.

2012 — The Legislature passes Senate Bill 6239, legalizing same-sex marriage. Voters upheld the law on Nov. 6.

For now, Washington's role as a beacon for the rest of the nation is one to be admired. Next Sunday's same-sex marriage ceremonies were authorized by the people — not by courts or politicians — with the passage of Referendum 74 on Nov. 6. Those ceremonies will be unprecedented and unmatched in American history. Yes, voters in two other states took the same action on Nov. 6. But in Maine, same-sex marriage ceremonies will not be conducted until early January. In Maryland, licenses will be issued to same-sex couples on Thursday, but ceremonies for those couples will not be legal until Jan. 1.

Some foes will continue to voice their disagreement. They'll point out that Referendum 74 was approved in only 10 of our state's 39 counties and in only one county east of the Cascades. They'll say that, if it hadn't been for King County (home to one-third of the state's voters, and where R-74 drew two-thirds approval), the story would have been different. Locally, some people will remind us that R-74 was supported by only 47.4 percent of participating voters in Clark County.

As we've often noted, these opponents make reasonable points and their views are to be respected. But the lingering arguments are empty and futile. Marriage equality is the law of the state.

What remains on the national scene, of course, is a matter of conjecture and legal confusion. Nine states have legalized gay marriage, but the U.S. Supreme Court has yet to rule on whether Congress can prevent same-sex couples from receiving federal benefits available to opposite-sex couples. The court's dilemma was described in a recent AP story by Northwestern University Professor Andrew Koppelman: "Either they impose same-sex marriage on the whole country, which would create a political firestorm, or they say there's no right to same-sex marriage, in which case they are going to be reversed in 20 years and be badly remembered. They'll be the villains in the historical narrative."

Washingtonians refuse to wait for this issue to be arbitrated at the federal level. The people decided that the right time to do the right thing is now. Far from a villain, Washington is a leader.