With Gov. Chris Gregoire’s signature, Washington today becomes the seventh state to recognize gay marriage. It’s a historic day for same-sex couples seeking equal treatment under the law for their relationships.
But they shouldn’t rush out and order invitations and wedding cake; it’s unlikely they can start getting married anytime soon. Opponents have vowed to place at least one measure on the November ballot to overturn the legislation that passed the state Legislature last week largely along party lines.
Referendum backers only need to gather 120,557 signature to get on the ballot; an initiative requires 241,153. If signature-gathering falls short, same-sex marriages could start taking place in June. Otherwise, the outcome of the November election would be the deciding factor.
Even if same-sex marriage opponents are successful in overturning this state’s law at the ballot box – no sure thing – it wouldn’t be the end of the fight. A test case would likely go to the Washington Supreme Court in short order, and observers believe it would rule in favor of same-sex marriage.
The issue is virtually certain to land in the U.S. Supreme Court in the not-so-distant future as a result of judicial action last week in California. A 9th Circuit Court of Appeals three-judge panel ruled that Proposition 8 – a 2008 voter-approved measure that bans gay marriage in that state – is an unconstitutional violation of gay couples’ civil rights. Prop. 8 supporters will decide this week whether to seek a full 9th Circuit review of that decision or to appeal directly to the U.S. Supreme Court.
For opponents of same-sex marriage, the latter move could prove risky. The high court could rule strictly on California’s case or decide whether to establish a nationwide right for gay couples to wed. The court might be evenly split on the issue, with one justice – Anthony M. Kennedy – the question mark.
But that’s all a discussion for another day. This day is for gay couples, their loved ones and supporters to celebrate. Gay couples in Washington may have “everything but marriage” now, but someday soon they will have equal rights under the law with other citizens. That day can’t come too soon.