King County Executive Ron Sims said he was disappointed by Wednesday's decision by the Washington State Supreme Court to deny gay and lesbian citizens of the state access to the benefits of marriage.
In a narrow 5-4 decision, the court upheld the constitutionality of the state's Defense of Marriage Act, which bars gay and lesbian couples from marrying.
"I continue to believe that marriage equality is a fundamental civil rights issue," Sims said. "I wish the court had ruled differently, but I respect its decision, and as a public servant I'm committed to upholding the law."
Sims likened Wednesday's decision to the United States Supreme Court's infamous Plessy v. Ferguson ruling, which for decades had enshrined discrimination in the law before finally being overturned by a later Supreme Court case, Brown v. Board of Education.
"This is an unwise decision. To my mind, it is reminiscent of Plessy v. Ferguson. Separate but equal was once the law on the land, too, but eventually Plessy was overturned," Sims said.
"If the Legislature does not make changes first, I firmly believe that a future court will take up this issue again," he added. "And on that day, a wiser and more enlightened generation will overturn this ruling."
Although Sims disagrees with the ruling, he stressed the issue had been handled the right way in Washington state. Last year, while resisting pressure from grassroots marriage advocates to issue licenses on his own authority, Sims worked closely with same-sex marriage proponents to craft a legal challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act.
"When the push for marriage equality heated up in 2004, I made a decision to handle the issue in an orderly and deliberative way. I remain proud that in our state we have for the most part avoided some of the incivility and discriminatory rhetoric that has developed around this issue is some places," Sims said. "I hope that continues."
Sims reaffirmed his support for the couples that were denied the right to marry but added he will continue to work to change the law. Sims said he will urge the Legislature to create some way for the state to recognize loving long-term unions of gay and lesbian couples.
"Today's decision is a setback, but the struggle will continue. As someone who marched alongside my parents for African American civil rights, I know that fundamental change does not come easily," Sims said. "There are always bumps on the road in the struggle for fundamental civil rights.
"Sometimes it takes longer than we might like to bring about needed social change. To those who might be inclined to lose heart because of today's ruling, I say: Keep the faith. Our country and our state are too great to allow decimation to continue to indefinitely."