updated 8/4/2004 2:55:49 PM ET 2004-08-04T18:55:49

Gay couples can be married under Washington state law, because denying their right to do so is a violation of their constitutional rights, a judge ruled Wednesday.

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“The denial to the plaintiffs of the right to marry constitutes a denial of substantive due process,” King County Superior Court Judge William Downing said in his ruling.

His decision is stayed until the state Supreme Court reviews the case, meaning no marriage licenses can be issued until then, said Jennifer Pizer, lead counsel in the case for Lambda Legal Defense in the case.

“Judge Downing saw the couples in the courtroom and he’s recognized that they are full and equal citizens of Washington. No more and no less,” Pizer said.

Only Massachusetts has gone further
Washington is one of 38 states with laws defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Under a state high court ruling, Massachusetts has allowed gay marriage since May.

The Washington state couples challenged the state’s Defense of Marriage Act, which restricts marriage to one man and one woman.

Arguing for the couples, attorney Bradley Bagshaw told Downing at a hearing last month that the act violates the state constitution by depriving same-sex couples of the same privileges and immunities as other residents, and by depriving them of life, liberty or property without due process of law.

Six couples filed the lawsuit in March after King County refused to grant them marriage licenses, and two other couples later joined the suit.

A second lawsuit was filed in April by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of 11 same-sex couples.

Judge sees no rational argument
In his ruling, Downing criticized arguments that a ban on same-sex marriage would protect children from harm that may be caused by being raised in a nontraditional family.

“Although many may hold strong opinions on the subject, the fact is that there are no scientifically valid studies tending to establish a negative impact on the adjustment of children raised by an intact same-sex couple as compared with those raised by an intact opposite-sex couple,” Downing wrote.

He concluded that excluding same-sex partners from civil marriage “is not rationally related to any legitimate or compelling state interest.”

King County Executive Ron Sims, a defendant in the lawsuit, said the ruling was a powerful affirmation of equal rights.

“I think marriage is an incredibly wonderful institution and that people who love each other should be allowed to be involved in it,” Sims said.

When first urged to issue marriage licenses to gay couples, Sims said he wouldn’t do it because the licenses wouldn’t have any legal meaning in a state that didn’t recognize him. But he invited the couples to sue.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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