Article by Erik Smith. Published on Thursday, February 09, 2012 EST.
Two-Hour Debate Ends Session-Long Battle Over Redefinition of Marriage – Now ‘Budget Session’ Can Begin
Jubilation in Democratic wings as the House votes to make Washington the 7th state to permit gay marriage.
By Krista Norsworthy
Staff writer/ Washington State Wire
OLYMPIA, Feb. 8.—Debate over gay marriage finally ended in the Washington state Legislature Wednesday as the state House approved a measure 55-43 that will allow same-sex couples to marry, sending the measure to the governor’s desk, where a signature is certain.
And then it will be the public’s turn, as opponents vow to overturn the measure with a referendum in the November election. The statewide vote is sure to cast a shadow over this year’s races, as it is expected to draw gay-marriage supporters to the polls in large numbers in the urban areas of Puget Sound, and perhaps as big a concentration of opponents in other areas of the state.
But at least for Wednesday, the vote was a matter of celebration on the Democratic side of the aisle, where jubilant lawmakers hugged and high-fived and declared that it was one of the most historic votes ever taken by the Washington Legislature. “It’s a great day for families all across the state – and of course it’s a great day for my family as well,” said state Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, the Legislature’s most prominent gay-rights advocate and sponsor of Senate Bill 6239.
Murray said backers of same-sex marriage will immediately begin preparing for the November campaign. There appears little doubt that opponents will obtain the needed 120,577 signatures to place the measure on the ballot, he said. “We know it will be tough,” he said. “We think we will win.”
Meanwhile, Republicans said they were relieved that the vote was finally over and the Legislature’s “budget session” could finally begin. Lawmakers opened their session Jan. 9, promising to make the state’s $1.5 billion shortfall their top priority. But the gay-marriage issue, forced to the front burner by Gov. Christine Gregoire, has dominated lawmakers’ attention during the first month of the 2012 session. A huge distraction, Republicans say; a burning matter of civil rights, say the Dems.
Changes a Word
For all the furor that has surrounded the issue, the measure essentially makes a minor change in law, using the term marriage to describe the unions of same-sex couples rather than “domestic partnerships,” which have been permitted in this state since 2009. About 9,300 couples have taken advantage of the “everything-but-marriage” arrangement. The measure contains a number of restrictions that are aimed at preventing religious organizations from being forced to perform ceremonies, but critics said the protections are not sufficient to prevent wedding photographers, cake-decorators and others from being sued for discrimination if they abstain from gay nuptials.
The vote was never really in doubt in the House, where Democrats have a 56-42 advantage and the party voted, as expected, in near lock-step for the measure. There were only a handful of defections. Democrats Mark Miloscia of Federal Way, Steve Kirby of Tacoma and Chris Hurst of Enumclaw voted no with the Republicans. Republicans Maureen Walsh of Walla Walla and Glenn Anderson of Fall City voted yes with Democrats.
The real battle over the measure came last week in the Senate, where there was considerably more crossing of party lines, and the measure ultimately passed 28-21.
What marked the two-hour House debate, however, were the passionate speeches on both sides and the remarkable number of members who revealed that close friends or family members were gay. Anderson, for instance, a brother; Walsh, a daughter.
Friends and Family
“I think to myself, how can I deny anyone the right to have that incredible bond with another individual for life?” Walsh asked. “To me it seems almost cruel.
“My daughter came out of the closet a couple of years ago and you know what I thought? I was just going to agonize about that. Nothing’s different. She’s still a fabulous human being and she’s met a person that she loves very much, and someday, by God, I want to throw a wedding for that kid, and I hope that is exactly what I can do. I hope she will not feel like a second-class citizen involved in something called a domestic partnership, which frankly sounds like a Merry Maids franchise to me.”
Anderson, a candidate for lieutenant governor, said that the day his younger brother came out, he told his father, “it’s just who he is.”
And then there were those who are gay themselves. Said Rep. Marko Liias, D-Mukilteo, “Today I stand in support of this bill because of a man named Michael. Mike and I met three-years-ago in the summer of 2009 and I could tell you honestly that it was about love at first sight. As many people in this room and all around the state know, our partners make us bigger and better than we can be by ourselves. For me, Mike is my muse and my creative energy.”
Lawmakers had been practicing their speeches for weeks, knowing that the debate would attract nationwide attention. Last week so many viewers tuned in for the Senate webcast on TVW, the state’s public-affairs network, that they crashed the channel’s servers. The network added additional capacity this time out.
The keynote speech on the Republican side was delivered by state Rep. Jay Rodne, R-North Bend, who called the redefinition of marriage a striking example of a “progressive mindset” that seeks to reshape society to its own political desires, while ignoring the custom and tradition of thousands of years.
“Listening to the testimony and the proponents it because it became clear to me this bill is about validation; it’s about acceptance,” he said. “The proponents of this bill are not going to find validation or acceptance through the enactment of the law. I would argue that you’re not going to find validation or acceptance through marriage because marriage is not about self-actualization, validation or acceptance. Marriage? What is it about? Since time immemorial, marriage has meant the union of a man and woman – uniquely different yet perfectly and completely complimentary.”Democratic keynoter was state Rep. Jaime Pedersen, D-Seattle, another of the Legislature’s openly gay members. Pedersen said it’s nice to have the civil protections under law that are permitted by domestic partnerships, but they are a “pale and inadequate substitute” for marriage. Pedersen said he wanted his four children to “grow up understanding that their daddy and papa have made the kind of lifelong commitment to each other. Marriage is the word we use in our society to convey that idea.”
Gov. Christine Gregoire and state Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, watch from the wings as Rep. Jamie Pedersen delivers the Democratic keynote speech.
The gallery bursts into applause as the vote is announced. And only the Republicans remain seated.