Churches, City Council member weigh in on the subject of marriage

When it comes to same sex marriage, Seattle does not appear to be sitting on the fence, especially on Capitol Hill. People are not spooked by it; in fact they can be quite eloquent when explaining why they favor it.

"I am for equal rights for all and I believe the right to marry is one of those basic rights everyone should have, including gay and lesbian people," declared Tom Rasmussen, openly gay and a newly elected member of the Seattle City Council. "I'm glad this issue has reached the current level of public awareness. I am also pleased to see the level of support in Seattle for the rights of gays and lesbians to marry."

That support went big-time last week when Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels announced last week that under a newly signed executive order city employees who have been married to same-sex partners can obtain city benefits for their spouses on the same footing as married heterosexuals. Nickels and Rasmussen have cosponsored a City ordinance to require all businesses and corporations operating in Seattle to extend the same rights and protections to same-sex marriages as they do to heterosexual marriages.

"What we can do at our level is offer people who are married the same rights and protections everyone else has," Rasmussen explained. "We are looking at the legal marriages that have occurred under a marriage license in other communities."

The protections do not extend to couples who have just commitment ceremonies - basically a marriage without a marriage license - but the city currently protects people in a variety of other ways, and city employees have the right to include their domestic partners in the city's employee benefits package.

"I don't see why only straight people get to decide what is moral or what is sacred," said Gary Atkins, a journalism professor at Seattle University and the author of the history book "Gay Seattle." "If the government wanted to limit special benefits only to right-handers who married left-handers, it would need some damn compelling reasons for doing so," he said. "Similarly, it needs some compelling reasons for privileging only heterosexual marriages. If procreation is that reason, then only heterosexuals who can and do procreate should receive licenses and special benefits. Other heterosexuals shouldn't."

The difference between religious marriage and civil marriage is clear. If your marriage is not recognized by civil law you are not eligible for marriage benefits such as community property, inheritance or even the right to visit your partner in the hospital.

"Churches are free to recognize and marry whoever they want," Atkins said. But when it comes to government licenses, then all couples that promise to love one another and take care of one another should be recognized and treated equally by the law. "There are Christian churches - including my own [Society of Friends, also known as Quakers] - that are willing to marry same-sex couples. The government should not be siding just with those churches that oppose same-sex marriage."

"The tradition at Saint Mark's Cathedral is we perform liturgical rites of what is called marriage," said Rev. Robert Taylor, dean of the cathedral. "If you go to our Web site you will see the criteria and expectations for all couples, whether same sex or otherwise, are exactly the same."

One of those expectations is that the couple will have some connection with the church community. If you are not an Episcopalian, straight or gay, this is not a place for you to wed.

"We expect that people coming to be married in a church are coming because of their sense of spirituality, but also because they are part of a larger community, a faith community, and also in the context of the divine," said. Rev. Taylor, who is also openly gay.

The All Pilgrims Christian Church on Broadway and East Republican Street had a banner up proclaiming that the church does same-sex weddings. Of course, not everyone in Seattle favors same-sex marriage. On Sunday night, vandals tore down the banner and ripped it up.

"The church itself has been doing them (same-sex marriages) since the 1970s," said Mark Travis, co-pastor at All Pilgrims Christian Church. "I don't treat them any differently than I do heterosexual marriage. God doesn't look at it as male or female, God looks at it as the reflections of His essence. Therefore He doesn't care about the gender. What God cares about is that they are taking care of each other, that they are two people who are committing their lives to each other."

Unlike many other churches, there is no requirement to be a member of the church to be married at All Pilgrims Church.

"I've married people who are agnostic, people who are non-Christian, people who are Christian," Pastor Travis said. "I see myself as a person who assists in creating a ceremony with the couple to celebrate their love. They do not have to be Christian."

Even so, the state of Washington does not consider them married.

"When you look at equal protection cases, the government can discriminate, but only if it has a compelling reason to do so," Atkins said. "Compelling reason is what courts look for in discrimination. "When you look at the marriage laws and what is the compelling reason for restricting marriage to heterosexual couples, you really don't see a compelling reason."

Atkins said if same-sex couples share a household for a while there are some "palimony" rights if they split up. He said it is not exactly like divorce, but they do divide some property.

"In a way," Atkins said, "gay couples are getting the benefits and problems of divorce, but not the benefits of marriage."

"I believe that same-sex marriage will eventually be accepted in this state," Rasmussen said. "As long as the dream of 'life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness' is alive in this country everyone will be seeking it, and marriage is part of that dream."

Freelance writer Korte Brueckmann lives on Capitol Hill. He can be reached c/o or 461-1308.

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