Washingtonians should feel proud as we reflect on our state's prominent role in events leading up to Wednesday's landmark rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court advancing marriage equality.
Most significantly, ours was the first state to conduct legal same-sex weddings as mandated by voters, not by courts or legislatures. That mandate occurred last fall, when Referendum 74 was approved by almost 54 percent of voters (R-74 was opposed in Clark County by 52 percent of voters). Yes, similar popular referendums passed that same day, Nov. 6, in Maryland and Maine, but Washington was the first of the three states to conduct legal same-sex weddings, on Dec. 9.
So we are unique among the 50 states in that regard. Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson spoke to that distinction on Wednesday after the Supreme Court declared the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional.
"This ruling is vitally important to the people of Washington," Ferguson said. "Now that Washington voters have approved same-sex marriage, couples in our state could have found themselves in similar situations -- being denied federal benefits provided to other couples."
Washington was one of 15 states that joined in filing a "friend-of-the-court" brief to the high court on the DOMA case.
"It was important that Washington's voice be heard in this case," Ferguson noted.
Our state also figures prominently in discussions about Wednesday's second ruling because of our position on the West Coast. The justices ruled that a case involving California's Proposition 8 (denying marriage to same-sex couples) lacked standing, and the Supreme Court left intact a lower court ruling that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional. To that, California Attorney General Kamala Harris responded, according to the Los Angeles Times, that "every county in the state of California must now recognize the right of same-sex couples to legally marry."
This poses the question: What about Oregon? We expect marriage-equality efforts to gain momentum in our neighbor state, marching toward a completion of the West Coast trifecta.
Still, remember what did NOT happen Wednesday. Legal same-sex marriages were not declared the law of the land. And as House Speaker John Boehner said: "A robust national debate over marriage will continue in the public square, and it is my hope that states will define marriage as the union between one man and one woman."
And here are two states' rights questions that are worthy of that debate: If states recognize driver's licenses issued in all other states, why shouldn't they recognize marriage licenses issued in all other states? Secondly, if some states want to fight the tide of public opinion and continue to ban same-sex marriages, how much sympathy can they expect down the litigation road from a Supreme Court that has declared DOMA unconstitutional?
The Columbian's stance on this issue has been clear for years. What's different in this debate — after Wednesday's rulings — is that the marriage-equality march led by Washington and a growing number of other states is legal, as affirmed by the highest court in the land.