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Gay Seattle city workers get boost

Unions recognized; same-sex couples sue

SEATTLE -- Seattle joined the gay marriage fight yesterday, with the mayor announcing that City Hall will recognize unions of gay city employees who tie the knot elsewhere and six same-sex couples suing for the right to wed.

Mayor Greg Nickels issued an executive order requiring the city to recognize same-sex marriages by municipal employees.

"Seattle has often been in the forefront of protecting all its citizens, regardless of sexual orientation," Nickels said at a news conference. He also proposed an ordinance to extend protections for gay married couples throughout the city.

Meanwhile, six same-sex couples who applied for marriage licenses at the King County Administration Building were rejected because of a state law that defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

But the King County administrator, Ron Sims, invited the couples to sue him and the county, explaining that he supported the couples' efforts but had no choice but to uphold the law.

Sims, who is black, said he remembered images from his childhood of white government officials in the South blocking blacks from entering buildings restricted to whites.

"I was not going to stand with my arms crossed and my hand up," Sims said. "We do not have equal protection in this state when it comes to marriage."

The couples applauded Sims's remarks, then filed their complaint, which argues that the law violates the Washington Constitution's equal-protection clause.

Elsewhere, the city of Asbury Park, N.J., started issuing wedding licenses to same-sex couples, with the first couple married in City Hall yesterday. City Clerk Dawn Tomek made the announcement; it was not immediately clear if she had acted alone.

"As a show of support to the city's gay community and the gay community nationwide, the City of Asbury Park has determined that it will commence the issuance of licenses to same-sex couples and the solemnization of marriage between same-sex couples, immediately, as a matter of fundamental civil and constitutional rights," Tomek said in a statement.

Attorney General Peter C. Harvey of New Jersey said that his office will seek an injunction this week to stop the issuance of such marriage licenses.

In Portland, Ore., supporters of same-sex weddings won a legal battle when a judge ruled yesterday that the state's most populous county can continue issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples.

The Defense of Marriage Coalition filed a lawsuit against Multnomah County last week, saying officials had violated the state's public-meetings law by not holding public meetings before making a policy change. But Judge Dale Koch denied a request for a preliminary injunction, ruling that the plaintiffs were unlikely to prevail under the state's public-meeting law.

Nickels said he lacks the legal authority to issue same-sex marriage licenses or certificates like mayors in San Francisco and New Paltz, N.Y., have done.

More than 3,600 same-sex marriages have been performed in San Francisco in the last three weeks, and hundreds of gay couples were granted wedding licenses last week in Portland, Ore.

Mayor Jason West of New Paltz faces possible jail time for officiating at same-sex weddings for couples who lacked a license. The prosecutor who charged him said yesterday he was also considering charges against two ministers who stepped in to marry gay couples in New Paltz.

Although Unitarian Universalist ministers have been performing same-sex ceremonies for decades, the Rev. Kay Greenleaf said she signed an affidavit for the couples and considers the ceremonies civil.

Donald Williams, the Ulster County district attorney, said it would take days to determine whether the ministers could face charges similar to those filed against West.

Seattle has offered domestic partnership benefits to its employees since 1989, but that process requires extensive paperwork -- a step same-sex couples would be able to skip under Nickels's executive order.

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