Washington's Senate will be the battleground for legalizing gay marriage

Gov. Chris Gregoire called for gay-marriage bills to be introduced in the Washington House and Senate next week, but some lawmakers say the legislation will need to win more votes to pass in the Senate.

Crosscut archive image.

State Sen. Ed Murray

Gov. Chris Gregoire called for gay-marriage bills to be introduced in the Washington House and Senate next week, but some lawmakers say the legislation will need to win more votes to pass in the Senate.

The gay-marriage bill proposed by Gov. Chris Gregoire is still currently "a few" votes short, when tallying up Senate support, Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, said Wednesday. Murray declined to say how many a "few" is other than that it is significantly less then 10.

While many details still have to be hammered out, Gregoire announced Wednesday that she is calling for gay-marriage legalization bills to be introduced next week in both the Senate and House.

According to Murray, pro-gay-marriage backers are discussing the proposed bill with potentially swing-vote senators. Still, he told onlookers he is "optimistic" that the bill will pass and that at least two Senate Republicans are willing to vote for a gay-marriage bill.

"I can get Republican votes for gay marriage, but I can't get a Republican to vote for raising taxes," said Murray, chairman of the Senate's Ways and Means Committee. "This bill will not pass without bipartisan support."

Both Murray and Gregoire claimed that legislators' votes on gay marriage would depend on how his or her personal beliefs are set and have evolved, rather than horse-trading votes.

"I'm chairman of the Ways and Means Committee with out any means [referring to the current budget crisis]," Murray said. "If you think there is something to trade, there isn't. It's about where people are personally."

Meanwhile, Rep. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, believes a gay-marriage bill will easily pass the House. Pedersen and Murray, both openly gay themselves, have been the architects of their chambers' gay marriage pushes. In the last session, forty-three representatives co-sponsored a gay-marriage bill in the House, which never made it out of committee.

One plank in the bills is that individual religious denominations can make their own decisions about whether or not to perform gay marriages. Consequently, freedom of religion and non-descrimination against marrying gays and lesbians can co-exist, Gregoire said.

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.

Gregoire, Murray, Pederson, and other openly gay legislators Reps. Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, Marko Liias, D-Edmonds, and Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver, said they will push to get gay marriage approved in the session and don't want to punt the issue to a public referendum. However, Pederson did not rule out going to a public referendum if the bills stall in the legislature.

"We've got an important vote today [referring to her own now-public support], " Gregoire said. "We'll do what is needed to get it done."

During the announcement, Gregoire explained that her personal beliefs have evolved alongside the growing public support for gay marriage. Her role as governor, she said, contrasts with the beliefs of her Catholic faith over the past seven years; a contrast she has been unable to reconcile. "I've been on my own journey," she said.

The governor compared ending discrimination against gays and lesbians to the ending of racial discrimination. The status quo on gay marriage, she said, is similar to the "separate, but equal" aspects of race relations several decades ago. And she reminded her audience that interracial marriages were illegal in some states until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled otherwise in 1967.

Moreover, she contended, registered domestic partners are not that same as married couples. "When I talk about my marriage to Mike, I don't talk about a contract with legal obligations," she said.

Gregoire's children also played a role in her decision. She explained that her daughters' generation supports gay marriage in much that same way that the previous generation supported racial equality. "I think it is time for the older generation to listen to our younger people," she announced.


Please support independent local news for all.

We rely on donations from readers like you to sustain Crosscut's in-depth reporting on issues critical to the PNW.


About the Authors & Contributors

John Stang

John Stang

John Stang is a freelance writer who often covers state government and the environment. He can be reached on email at johnstang_8@hotmail.com and on Twitter at @johnstang_8