SEATTLE (AP) — This left-leaning city 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 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.

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.

Nickels also said he will ask the City Council to protect gay
married couples throughout the city from discrimination in
employment and housing. If the council approves the ordinance, it
also would require contractors doing business with the city to
recognize gay marriages among their own employees.

Rick Forcier, head of the state Christian Coalition and a critic
of extending marriage licenses to gay couples, called the
mayor’s plan a clear violation of state law.

“What he’s about to do is anarchy — taking the
law into his own hands,” Forcier said. “People cannot
be recognized as married in one jurisdiction and not in
another.”

Elsewhere, the city of Asbury Park, N.J., started issuing
wedding licenses to same-sex couples, with the first couple married
in City Hall on Monday by Deputy Mayor James Bruno.

“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,” City Clerk Dawn Tomek said in a
statement.

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. The marriages
are being challenged in court.

New Paltz Mayor Jason West faces possible jail time for
officiating at same-sex weddings for couples who lacked a license.
On Monday, the prosecutor who charged him said 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. Ulster County District Attorney Donald Williams said it
would take days to determine whether the ministers could face
charges similar to those filed against West.

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