For Ed Murray, the long-awaited moment on gay marriage

How the Washington state Senate's only openly gay member helped achieve something he once thought was beyond dreaming about.

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State Sen. Ed Murray

How the Washington state Senate's only openly gay member helped achieve something he once thought was beyond dreaming about.

This was a moment Ed Murray had been waiting for his entire 17-year state Senate career.

In fact, he and his partner Michael Shiosaki didn't even dream that this moment could happen for most of their 21-year-relationship that began when they met on a camping trip on Mount Rainer, where Murray took one look and thought: "Oh God, I've got to find out a way to date this guy."

Now he and Shiosaki, who grew up as a Methodist, hope to get a church wedding soon. Since the bill leaves it up to individual denominations on whether they will marry gay couples, though, the pair cannot expect a Roman Catholic wedding despite regularly attending Mass together for years.  

But for many years, Murray didn't think he would even be in the Senate if and when gay marriage would be legalized. "People my age and older never thought this moment would come," the 56-year-old Murray said.

The moment took place at 7:57 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 1, when the state Senate voted 28-21 to make Washington the seventh state to legalize gay marriage. Four Republicans voted for the bill and three Democrats opposed it. 

The two packed galleries above the Senate chamber broke out in applause. A string  of "whooos" followed the the first "yaayyys." Murray hugged Gov. Chris Gregoire, then House gay-marriage leader Rep. Jamie Pedersen, and finally Shiosaki at the side of the chamber.

Wednesday's Senate session was the key vote. The Washington House — with five openly gay representatives, including Pedersen — has a solid pro-gay-marriage majority. Gregoire has said she will sign a gay marriage bill.

The Senate was the real battleground with an original tally two weeks ago of 22 pro-gay marriage votes, 18 opposing, and the rest undecided. Twenty-five votes were needed to pass. Prior to Wednesday, three of the senators on the fence struggled with their beliefs before deciding gay marriage was an issue of equality and fairness, and the bill should be passed. So Murray, the Senate's only gay member, knew he had the votes going into Wednesday evening's debate.

Of the four remaining undecideds going into Wednesday voted for the bill, three — Sens. Brian Hatfield, D-Raymond, Andy Hill, R-Redmond, and Joe Fain, R-Auburn — voted for the bill. The fourth undecided going into Wednesday, Sen. Paull Shin, D-Edmonds, voted against it.

Several days ago, Republican Sens. Steve Litzow of Mercer Island and Cheryl Pflug of Maple Valley voiced support for the bill.

"This vote was courageous and was only possible with bipartisan support," Gregoire said in a written statement. "that support shows Washington's commitment to equality." 

This is a tough issue for senators  from districts that are split on the issue. Murray and Pedersen, both Democrats from the same liberal, gay-friendly Seattle district, face no risks of losing re-election bids because of this vote. But the 24th and 25th votes tallied prior to Wednesday were from Sen. Jim Kastama, D-Puyallup, and Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, whose more conservative constituents are deeply divided on gay marriage. "I'm so moved by their courage," Murray said.

The bill is expected to go to the House's floor next week. But even Gregoire's signature won't guarantee that Washington will ultimately legalize gay marriage.

Gay marriage opponents plan to gather enough signatures on a petition to take gay marriage to a statewide public referendum. Murray expects that referendum to mateirlize. For the past several months, Murray, Pedersen, and others have set up Washington United for Marriage as the framework to battle that expected initiative. 

Murray is optimistic about gay marriage's chances in the expected referendum., believing Washington's voters are ready for the concept. "the legislature is catching up. ... It'll be a tough battle. It'll be ugly," he said. 

If Murray's side prevails in the referendum, Washington wlll join Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, New Hampshire, Vermont, and New York in allowing gay marriages. Gay marriages can also be legally performed in Washington, D.C., the Suquamish reservation in Washington, and the Coquille Indian Tribe in Oregon.

Wednesday's Senate debate lasted little more than an hour. 

The pro-gay side accepted the opponents' amendments to strengthen language ensuring that individual religious denominations and ministers can decline to marry gay couples without legal retaliation. But the pro-gay side rejected amendments that would extend that leeway to businesses dealing with weddings. 

Both sides debated respectfully, soulfully, and with an occasional voice tremor. Proponents spoke much more than opponents.

"I believe altering the definition of marriage will lead to silencing those who believe in traditional marriage," said Sen. Dan Swecker, R-Rochester.

Sen. Debbie Regala, D-Tacoma, said: "The reality is that marriage has evolved in many forms through the past."

She and other proponents cited that women were once considered "chattel": for men, when younger teen girls were told to marry much older men, and when different races could not marry.

Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, mentioned his gay father. Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, talked about her lesbian sister.  

Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, is a longtime Washington National Guard member with overseas hitches in Kosovo and Iraq. He talked about serving with gay soldiers who fought, were wounded, suffered post-traumatic stress disorder, and were even were killed in action. "How can I look them in the eye and vote 'no?' " he said. 

Both sides talked about not holding their opponents' votes against each other.

"Those voting against (the bill) are not bigots and should not be accused of being bigots. Those voting for the bill are not and should not be accused of undermining family values. ... Regardless of how you vote, Michael and I have something to tell you. An invitation will be in the mail," Murray said. 

Meanwhile, the ghost of Cal Anderson hovered over Murray's shoulder. Anderson, a Vietnam war hero, was the Washington Legislature's first openly gay member — in the House and then briefly in the Senate before he died in 1995 of AIDS-related cancer. Representing the same legislative district, Murray considered Anderson his mentor. Both received taunts and flak in their early years in the Legislature because of their orientations. First Anderson and then Murray — and his House  gay counterparts — chipped away for full gay equality.

This was a deliberate, incremental slog. An anti-discrimination bill here. The addition of a domestic right there. Murray's and Pedersen's long-term plan has been to take a step, let their straight colleagues become comfortable, and then tackle another incremental step. This strategy sometimes frustrated some of their own gay constituents. 

They held off on tackling marriage until the timing was right with enough votes and the governor's support. Meanwhile for several years, Gregoire visibly staked out a pro-domestic-partnership-but-no-gay-marriage stance. In her mind, the Catholic Gregoire also struggled with conflicting beliefs.

On Jan. 4, Gregoire announced her solid support for gay marriage. That helped Pedersen and Murray introduce their gay marriage bills. "The (legislative) members needed to know that if they take this difficult vote, that the govneror would sign the bill," Murray said.

During the past couple weeks, undecided senators struggled with their own beliefs.

Meanwhile, Republican leaders grumbled that the gay marriage issue was an overwhelming distraction from the state' $1.5 billion budget shortfall crisis — contending that only the budget should be tackled in this 60-day session. They noted that Murray is also the Senate Democrats' budget leader, and said gay marriage was taking him away from more important matters.

"I'll be glad when this is over with Thursday," said Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla and a "no" vote early Wednesday afternoon. At that time, he declined to talk further about the gay marriage issue.

Murray pointed to the fact he has juggled many complicated matters simultaneously during his Senate years, especially on the Ways and Means Committee. 

"I hope people would realize that i'm capable of working on more than one issue at a time," he said.


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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 and on Twitter at @johnstang_8