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City of Seattle
Seattle City Council

SUBJECT: Mayor Signs Executive Order, Will Send Ordinance to Council Recognizing Same Sex Marriage

3/8/2004  10:45:00 AM

Mayor Signs Executive Order, Will Send Ordinance to Council Recognizing Same Sex Marriage

"It's a matter of fairness"

SEATTLE -- Mayor Greg Nickels today signed an executive order that would give everyone who works for Seattle city government and is married equal rights regardless of whether they are straight or gay. The mayor will also send the City Council a proposed ordinance that will extend these protections to others throughout Seattle.

"When my wife Sharon and I want to do something like refinance our house or visit a family member in the hospital, absolutely no one challenges us about the legitimacy of our marital status," said Nickels. "It's long past time that gay and lesbian couples who love each other and get married receive that same recognition."

The mayor was joined at the announcement today by members of the City Council, the City Attorney and Mary Hennesy, a member of Seattle's Sexual Minorities Commission

"Within our lifetimes the marriages of interracial couples were not recognized in many states and many cities. Fortunately, that has changed," said City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen. "Now, gay and lesbian couples are seeking the same rights as all married couples to be able to live and travel freely without fear that their relationship will be disrespected. The right of gay and lesbian people to marry is fundamental to our equality and humanity."

The city of Seattle can not directly change the law that bars same sex marriages, but it can ensure city employees and citizens are not discriminated against because of their marital status.

"One of the most important duties of government is to protect those who cannot protect themselves. The City of Seattle remains on forefront of ensuring the equal rights of all its citizens, and this is a small step in securing for gay and lesbian citizens of Seattle the protections and benefits of marriage. There is no more appropriate use of the City's police powers than prohibiting discrimination," said Seattle City Attorney Tom Carr.

The mayor's Executive Order requires all city of Seattle departments to recognize city employees in same-sex marriages the way they currently recognize opposite-sex marriages. Details of the Order include:

  • Spouses of city employees in same sex marriages will enjoy all of the health insurance and other employee benefits of opposite sex spouses - again, with no extra paperwork;
  • The city's Office of Civil Rights is now authorized to receive and investigate complaints from city employees regarding any violations of this order; and
  • The city's personnel department will develop guidelines in accordance with this order.

Nickels is also sending the City Council a proposed ordinance which, if passed, would provide couples in same-sex marriages throughout the city the same rights and protections guaranteed to people in heterosexual marriages.

Some of those rights and protections include:

  • Couples in same-sex marriages would be protected from discrimination relating to employment, the use of park or other city facilities or housing;
  • When a gay or lesbian spouse owns a business in the city of Seattle and that person dies, his or her business license would be transferred to the surviving spouse;
  • Contractors and suppliers to the city would be prohibited from discriminating against individuals based on his or her marital status; and
  • The definition of malicious harassment would be extended to protect people in same-sex marriages.

"I think the ordinance is great and definitely a step in the right direction," said Mary Hennesy, a member of the Sexual Minorities Commission. "I am very happy with the Mayor's decision. I still want to be able to legally marry and I encourage leaders to allow all people do so."

"Seattle has been in the forefront of protecting all of its citizens, regardless of sexual orientation, for many years now," said Nickels. "We were one of the first cities in the country to establish domestic partnership laws and we will be one of the first cities in the United States to officially recognize the marital status of same-sex couples. It's the right thing to do."

The proposed ordinance affects the following sections of the Seattle Municipal Code:

  • SMC 4.64.010: The City covers claims made against a volunteer and his/her marital community when an act or omission is done in scope and course of carrying out a City assignment.
  • SMC 5.55.030: Seattle business licenses may be transferred to a surviving spouse.
  • SMC 14.040.010 et seq: Fair Employment Practices -- City's fair employment practice ordinances would apply to couples in a same sex marriage. Couples in a same sex marriage would be protected from discrimination with respect to any matter relating to employment.
  • SMC 14.08.010 et seq: Prohibition on unfair real estate practices would include prohibiting discrimination against individuals in same sex marriages.
  • SMC 18.12.280: The prohibition on discrimination in use of park facilities on basis of marital status, would now include same sex marriages.
  • SMC 20.44.030: Franchises, consultant, public improvement and services contracts over $1,000 with the City would be prohibited from discriminating on the basis of marital status.
  • SMC 20.44.040: Contracts with the City for leases and concessions would be prohibited from discriminating on the basis of marital status.
  • SMC 20.44.050: All contracts of the City for the purchase of supplies, materials, or equipment would be prohibited from discriminating on the basis of marital status.

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Office of the Mayor

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