Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson


SEATTLE — Attorney General Bob Ferguson joined a coalition of 15 states in filing a “friend of the court” brief Friday before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The states argued that laws prohibiting same-sex marriage in Nevada and Hawaii violate the 14th Amendment and should be struck down as unconstitutional.  

Washington voters approved Referendum 74, legalizing same-sex marriage, by nearly 54 percent in 2012 — making Washington the ninth state in the nation to legalize same-sex marriage.

“While state laws in Hawaii and Nevada provide many rights and protections for same-sex couples, they still deny marriage,” Ferguson said. “Washington granted same-sex couples the right to marry and we have a clear interest in ensuring all states respect marriages that are valid under Washington law.”

The states argue restrictive marriage laws treat gay and lesbian individuals and their families as second-class citizens by unfairly withholding the social benefits and cultural significance associated with marriage.

They also emphasize the positive experiences of many states that have approved same-sex marriage. The states present data on marriage rates, divorce rates, and percentages of out-of-wedlock births to make their case — and to support their contention that prohibiting marriage equality actually harms families by denying legal and social benefits of marriage to same-sex couples and their children.

The brief says, “The states favor — and therefore encourage — marriage over transient relationships because marriage promotes stable family bonds, fosters economic interdependence and security for members of the marital household, and enhances the physical and emotional well-being of both the partners to the marriage and any children they may raise….  All of these interests are furthered by ending the exclusion of same-sex couples from the institution.”

The brief was filed in connection with two related cases challenging bans on same-sex marriage in Nevada and Hawaii: Beverly Sevcik, et al. v. Brian Sandoval et al., on appeal from the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada, and Natasha N. Jackson, et al. v. Neil S. Abercrombie, et al., on appeal from the U.S. District Court for the District of Hawaii.

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley led the filing of the amicus brief. California, Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Vermont, Washington and the District of Columbia all joined the brief.

Earlier this year, Washington joined two “friend of the court” briefs before the U.S. Supreme Court in support of marriage equality.  In a 5-4 ruling in U.S. v. Windsor on June 26, 2013, the court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage and declared section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional. Also that day, the court issued a 5-4 ruling in Hollingsworth v. Perry, stating proponents of California’s Proposition 8 who appealed the case lacked standing — or the ability to bring the case — and that the Ninth Circuit should have never ruled on the case.

Background on same-sex marriage laws in Washington:

The Washington State Legislature approved Senate Bill 5688, the “everything-but-marriage” bill, in 2009. Under the measure, same-sex couples were granted the right to enter into domestic partnerships with all the legal rights and responsibilities of married couples, except that a domestic partnership was not a marriage. Opponents garnered enough signatures to refer the measure to voters as Referendum 71, but voters ultimately affirmed these rights of same-sex couples by a vote of more than 53 percent.

In 2012, the Legislature approved Senate Bill 6239, legalizing same-sex marriage. Once again, opponents garnered enough signatures to refer the measure to voters. Voters approved Referendum 74 by nearly 54 percent at the November election — making Washington the ninth state in the nation to legalize same-sex marriage.

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The Office of the Attorney General is the chief legal office for the state of Washington with attorneys and staff in 27 divisions across the state providing legal services to roughly 200 state agencies, boards and commissions. Attorney General Bob Ferguson is working hard to protect consumers and seniors against fraud, keep our communities safe, protect our environment and stand up for our veterans. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.

Contacts: Janelle Guthrie, Director of Communications, (360) 586-0725
Alison Dempsey-Hall, Deputy Communications Director, (206) 641-1335