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Gay marriage ban upheld in Wash.

Rights groups dealt new setback

OLYMPIA, Wash. -- The Washington Supreme Court upheld the state's ban on gay marriage yesterday, dealing the gay rights movement its second major defeat in less than a month in a liberal- leaning state that had been regarded as an especially promising battleground for gays.

The ruling leaves Massachusetts as the only state to allow gays to wed.

In a 5-to-4 decision, the court said lawmakers have the power to restrict marriage to a man and a woman, and it left intact the 1998 Defense of Marriage Act.

Earlier this month, New York's high court dealt gay couples a similar blow when it upheld a state law against same-sex marriage.

In Connecticut, a judge found that gay and lesbian couples had not been harmed by that state's decision to grant them civil unions but not marriage. Vermont also allows civil unions that confer the same legal rights as heterosexual married couples.

Opponents of gay marriage voiced surprise and delight at the ruling yesterday, given Washington state's liberal politics, particularly in Seattle.

``This is more than we could have imagined. We are . . . pleasantly shocked," said Jon Russell, field director for the conservative Faith and Freedom Network.

Disappointment was perhaps greatest in Seattle, home of the state's most visible gay community. ``There aren't words to describe how hurt people in the gay and lesbian community are. There's a lot of tears and a lot of anger right now. Emotion is raw," said state Representative Ed Murray, a Seattle Democrat and one of four openly gay state lawmakers.

The state Supreme Court overruled two lower courts that had found that the ban violated the Washington Constitution's ``privileges and immunities" section.

The gay marriage ban ``is constitutional because the Legislature was entitled to believe that limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples furthers procreation, essential to survival," Justice Barbara Madsen wrote in the controlling opinion.

However, Madsen and two other members of the majority invited the Legislature to take another look at a ``clear hardship" that the ban causes for gay couples.

In a dissent, Justice Mary Fairhurst said the majority had bowed to opinion. ``Unfortunately, the [majority] are willing to turn a blind eye" to discrimination in the Defense of Marriage Act ``because a popular majority still favors that discrimination," she wrote.

The 19 gay and lesbian couples who sued to overturn the law expressed dismay over the ruling.

`` The court was willing to treat my family differently than other families," said Brenda Bauer of Seattle, who sued along with her partner, Celia Castle. ``Today's a pretty sad day for our family."

Leaders in the Legislature and Governor Chris Gregoire, all Democrats, did not commit themselves to any course of action.

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