To The Altar, Via The Courtroom

Louis Navarrete, left, and Ric Best embrace during an informal reception Monday, March 8, 2004, in Asbury Park, N.J., after becoming the first couple to have a sanctioned gay marriage in New Jersey. The wedding Monday has many here expecting a flood of same-sex couples to descend on City Hall.
The path to the altar for same-sex couples continues to go by way of the courts.

Six Washington state couples went to court Monday seeking the right to get married, while New Jersey's attorney general will go to court this week to attempt to stop same-sex marriages from taking place in New Jersey.

In Oregon, gay and lesbian couples were dashing to buy rings, find tuxedos, sign prenuptial agreements and get a marriage license before a judge issued a ruling that may block Oregon's brief experiment in same-sex weddings. So far, the judge said the marriages may proceed.

The mayor of Seattle also jumped into the debate by announcing the city would begin recognizing same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions.

Among the plaintiffs in Washington are Johanna Bender and her partner, Sherri Kokx.

"We need to be able to look our kids in the eye and have them see us as a family, like all the other families in their lives. The other part is largely because we are parents and we want to protect their futures," said Bender, a Seattle lawyer.

"The whole point of marriage is security for families," attorney Ken Choe of the American Civil Liberties Union in Oregon agreed. Gays and lesbians "both need and deserve the opportunity to commit to each other."

Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels doesn't have the authority to begin issuing gay marriage licenses, as the mayors of San Francisco and New Paltz, N.Y., have done, because marriage licenses are handled by counties in Washington. State law defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman.

But on Monday Nickels signed an executive order that requires city departments to begin recognizing the unions of gay employees who get married elsewhere. The spouses of those employees are now entitled to the same benefits as the spouses of heterosexual workers.

"Seattle has often been in the forefront of protecting all its citizens regardless of sexual orientation," Nickels said at a news conference Monday.

A California group called the Pacific Justice Institute vowed to sue Nickels, saying he broke state law.

Though Seattle has offered domestic-partner benefits since 1989, the order cuts down on paperwork and treats same-sex unions the same way the city treats heterosexual ones, Nickels said.

He also said he would ask the City Council to pass an ordinance requiring contractors who work with the city to recognize gay marriage, and protecting gay married couples throughout the city from discrimination in employment, housing or the use of parks or other city facilities.

Councilwoman Jean Godden said she expected the ordinance to pass unanimously.

Ron Sims, the executive of King County, which includes Seattle, said he won't begin issuing marriage licenses to gays because it is not his right to decide which laws to enforce. But when six gay couples showed up at the county administration building Monday morning to apply for marriage licenses, Sims opened the door for them.

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 fold my arms, hold my hand up and say, 'You have no rights here,'" Sims said, encouraging the six couples to sue him and the county. "We do not have equal protection in this state when it comes to marriage. ... Today's laws must be changed."

After the six couples were denied licenses, they filed suit in King County Superior Court, seeking to overturn the state's 1998 Defense of Marriage Act, which made Washington one of 38 states defining marriage as the union of a man and woman. They cited the 1972 Equal Rights Amendment to the state constitution, which demands that no law confer rights to certain classes of citizens without applying to all citizens.

In New Jersey, Attorney General Peter C. Harvey told The Associated Press Monday night that his office will seek an injunction to stop the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

The attorney general's comments came hours after a gay couple were married in Asbury Park City Hall on Monday after being issued a license by city officials who claim New Jersey law does not explicitly ban such unions.

In a short 3:30 p.m. ceremony attended by about 10 people, Louis Navarrete and Ric Best, both of Asbury Park, tied the knot in City Council chambers after Deputy Mayor James Bruno performed the marriage.

The two had paid $28 for a marriage license on Friday and waited the requisite 72 hours, according to Laura Jewell, a spokeswoman for City Clerk Dawn Tomek.

Monday's wedding was the first gay marriage ceremony performed in New Jersey. Six other applications for same-sex weddings are pending, city officials said.

"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 written statement.

"We're proud that New Jersey is at the forefront of the marriage equality movement," said Steven Goldstein, New Jersey campaign manager for Lambda Legal, a gay activist organization.

Multnomah County, Oregon, Presiding Judge Dale Koch agrees the law originally drafted in the 19th century intended marriage to be the union of a man and a woman but his question for the 21st century was whether there was any harm in including same-sex unions.

He ruled Monday there was no harm and rejected a request by gay marriage opponents to block a county decision last week to grant marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples.