Thursday, March 4, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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City Council weighs gay-rights statement

Seattle Times staff reporter

Some Seattle City Council members are exploring what they can do to support gay marriage in the Emerald City.

Although city officials have no legal authority in the matter because counties issue marriage licenses in Washington state, several council members are considering making a statement — perhaps in the form of a nonbinding resolution or letter — advocating equal rights for all Seattle citizens.

But first they'll have to overcome concerns that the council is again focusing on sideshow issues instead of the nuts-and-bolts of city government.

At the leading edge of this discussion is rookie Councilman Tom Rasmussen, the only openly gay elected city official.

"Seattle has been a leader on equal rights in the past, and I want Seattle to be a leader in the future," he said. "I'm going to do whatever is most effective. That's what I want to assess. We can make statements, but is that alone enough?"

Councilman Peter Steinbrueck is open to the council taking some action, as are Nick Licata and Richard McIver. But other council members, while personally supportive of gay marriage, are more reluctant.

For starters, they note that they are not being heavily lobbied to take a stand.

They also point to the bruising 2003 election, in which three incumbents were unseated for the first time since 1935. Political observers have said that incumbents took a beating because the council was perceived as dabbling in issues that were not essential to city business. In particular, the council was criticized for debating legislation about the treatment of circus animals and the breaching of Snake River dams in Eastern Washington.

Some worry that a foray into gay marriage would stir up those charges and damage the council's reputation.

"I support gay marriage," said Jean Godden, who ousted incumbent Judy Nicastro. "But I'm a little ambivalent about that (a council resolution) in that it sounds like the Snake River dams. The City Council ought to focus on city business. On the other hand, it might be important to our constituents."

Shortly after his election last November, Rasmussen said he would try to keep himself and other council members from straying from basic city business.

But like Steinbrueck and McIver, Rasmussen argues that gay marriage is a civil-rights issue important to many constituents and closer to home than the Snake River dams resolution.

"The problem with that is we wanted to take down dams in other communities. That's quite different than making a statement about civil rights in our own community," said Rasmussen.

Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels has already made a statement supporting gay marriage but also stressed he is legally powerless on the issue.

"I strongly support the right of gays and lesbians to marry and have the same rights that my wife and I enjoy today," Nickels said in a written statement issued late last month. "Unfortunately, the City does not have the same authority as San Francisco. Here, King County has the responsibility of issuing marriage licenses."

Bob Young: 206-464-2174 or

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company


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