Monday was scheduled to be a day for arguments about a state gay marriage bill. One senator's decision overshadowed that.
Sen. Ed Murray entered Monday morning's much-awaited public hearing knowing that gay marriage in Washington had just received what he had been seeking: the final swing vote to get a majority in the state Senate.
Before the hearing (Jan. 24), Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano island, uncomfortable personally with gay marriage and wanting to take the matter to a public referendum, told Murray and his longtime partner Michael Shiosaki that she will go from uncommitted to pro on Murray' bill to legalize gay marriage in Washington. She told him she didn't see the votes ready to call for a referendum.
Haugen is the 25th pro-gay-marriage vote tallied in the 49-member Senate — 23 Democrats and two Republicans. "As with civil rights, it has taken Republicans to put us over the top," Murray said.
Twenty senators from both parties oppose the bill. Four are still undecided. Murray hopes to pick up a couple more votes.
After the Senate's public hearing on the bill, Murray and Haugen separately announced her decision at noon .
In a written statement, Haugen said, "I have always said when I accepted the Lord, I became more tolerant to others. ... I do not believe it is my role to judge others, regardless of my personal beliefs. . .. For me personally, I have always believed in traditional marriage between a man and a woman. That is what I believe to this day."
She added, "But this issue isn't about just what I believe. It's about respecting others, including people who may believe differently than I. It's about whether everyone has the same opportunities to love and companionship and family and security that I've enjoyed."
At a noon press conference, Murray said: "I want to commend her on her courage," noting that Haugen comes from a district that is split on the issue.
A show of hands at the press conference indicated that about 30 people, including Murray, Rep. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, and Rep . Lurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, plan to marry their same-sex partners this year.
University of Washington at Tacoma student Pablo Monroy showed off his silverish band-like ring. In past months, he was not sure what to call it: engagement ring, wedding ring, commitment ring. "I can't believe I'm going to be in a state that recognizes this," Monroy said.
The former U.S. Navy petty officer second class and current Washington National Guard sergeant now knows that he and his parnter will likely have a wedding on Aug. 11, rather than a committment ceremony.
Jinkins and her partner of 23 years on Monday promised their son Wulf that their wedding cake will have green frosting for the child.
"We want to say those two little words — 'I do,'" said Jeannie Anderson, who has a 10-yer relationship with her partner along with an 18-year-old daughter and an 11-year-old son. "Even with the domestic partnership (arrangements) , there is no guarantee that it would be honored by health care providers and the state government," she said.
The Democrat-controlled Washington House, which held a public hearing Monday afternoon on Pedersen's accompanying gay marriage bill, is considered a lock to pass that bill.
If the bills pass, Washington would become the seventh state to allow gay marriages to be performed, joining Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, New Hampshire, Vermont, and New York. Gay marriages can also be legally performed in Washington, D.C., the Suquamish reservation in Washington, and the Coquille Indian Tribe in Oregon.
Both bills would permit churches not to perform gay marriages because of their religious beliefs.
"Throughout our history, we have cherished equality and religious freedom. This legislation does both. ... No religion will be barred from sayingwho they want to marry. Ultimately this is about people who love and cherish each other and honor that commitment," Murray said.
However, gay marriage opponents have threatened a signature drive to set up a public referendum to revoke any new gay marriage law. Gay marriage supporters expect that referendum to materialize. "We expect massive resources (to promote a referendum) from the religious right," said Zach Silk, campaign manager for Washington United For Marriage, a pro-gay-marraige coalition.
At the morning Senate hearing before the Government Operations Committee, the issue split between calls for equality against warnings about tampering with God's will.
"I don't think God is excited about this. ... You as a committee and as a legislature are saying that you know more than God," high-profile gay marriage opponent Rev. Ken Hutcherson of Kirlkand's Antioch Bible Church told the the Senate committee.
Joseph Backholm of the Family Policy Institute criticized the legislature for not taking gay marriage to a public referendum. "This decision is at least as imporant as the rate of our sales tax," he said, referring to Gov. Chris Gregoire's proposed half-penny sales tax increase referendum.
Seattle Roman Catholic Archbishop Peter Sartain said in opposing the bill: "Only the union of a man and a woman can generate human life. No other union is equilvalent."
Rev. Joe Fuiten of the Cedar Park Assembly of God Church contended that churches that oppose gay marriages could be stigmatized, hurting them on getting help and donations for charitable work. Several argued that gay marriage would split children among multiple parents. One speaker, Robert Riggs, argued: "This is a small group of people who want to change 400 years of the norm of the nation."
People and organizations supporting gay marriage at the hearing included the Washington Education Association, the United Church of Christ, the Evangelical Lutheran Church (leaving the matter up to individual congregation members and pastors), several Jewish rabbis, the League of Women Voters , the Washington Human Rights Commision, famous lesbian U.S. Army Col. Margarethe Cammermeyer, the Washington Psychological Assocation, the Seattle Restaurant Association, and one lifelong conservative Republican who has been married for 44 years and has a gay son. "My wife and I feel (gay marriage ) is no threat to our marriage," the man said. His son suffered a brain aneurysm in 2010 and is closely cared for by his partner.
Tim Coley, a veteran Washington State Patrol sergeant, wants something more with his partner than a legal document authenticated by a notary public. He compared that arrangement to his partner and him being shareholders or members of a board of directors in a corporation.
Travis Rosenthal, president of the Seattle Restaurant Association, said his group sees dollar signs in supporting gay marriage. "There will be more weddings to cater, more receptions to host and more anniversaries to observe," he said.
Alan Steinman talked about going deep into the closet, making it up to rear admiral in the U.S. Coast Guard until he retired in 1997. Afraid to show up a numerous high-ranking social functions without a date, which would have started rumors that he was gay, Steinman put an ad in the Washingtonian magazine to find a woman. After sifting through return letters in those pre-Internet days, he sat down and talked with one woman who agreed to be his "friend" at social engagements. They are still good friends even though Steinman now has a partner of his own sex.
Steinman said to senators, "I'm asking this body to grant us the same rights as a straight couple."