OLYMPIA – With votes to spare, the state Senate passed a bill to allow same-sex couples to marry in Washington, sending it to the House of Representatives where it also has enough votes to pass.
A full gallery erupted after senators passionately but respectfully debated what Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle called “as contentious as any this body has considered, then passed it on a 28-21 vote.
Those who oppose it should not be accused of bigotry, Murray said. Those who support it should not be accused of religious intolerance.
“This is a difficult personal issue because it is about what is closest to us…family. Marriage is how society says you are a family.”
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It was a largely but not strictly partisan vote: Four Republicans voted yes; three Democrats voted no.
During the debate, senators offered deeply personal reasons for their votes for or against.
Murray spoke of his desire to marry his partner of some 21 years, Spokane Valley native Michael Shiosaki so they could have what Shiosaki’s parents Fred and Lily have. Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, described growing up with a father who was gay and whose abilities to be a parent were questioned by society.
“I'm proud to stand on the right side of history,” Ranker said. “And I'm proud of my father.”
Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, said he wasn’t judging anyone but had to vote no because of his religious belief : “I am no better than anyone else and I need the forgiveness of my savior every day. But I have to do what is right. .And for me doing the right thing is voting against the bill.”
Sen. Steve Hobbs, D- Lake Stevens, said he’d vote after being first in the Army and now in the National Guard, and serves with some soldiers who are gay and are willing to “take a bullet for me. How could I look them in the eye if I voted no? How could I stand next to them if I voted no? I will never leave a comrade behind.”
Supporters adopted some amendments offered by opponents to address concerns that the bill didn’t go far enough to protect churches and religious-based organizations that believe marriage is strictly between a man and a woman. No clergy would have to perform a same-sex marriage and no church would be forced to allow its facility to be used for one.
Faith-based adoption and foster agencies would not be forced to place children in the homes of same-sex couples under amendments added to the bill. But supporters drew the line at amendments that would have allowed any business to refuse to provide goods or services to a same-sex wedding because of religious objections, or allow judges and court commissioners to refuse to marry same-sex couples out of deeply held religious beliefs.
“There are many, many other judicial officers that would be willing to perform these services,” said Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, a former district judge.
Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle, countered: “There's no requirement that any judge be required to perform any marriage. It is not necessary.”
The amendments were negotiated between Democrats and Republicans in advance, and with the knowledge of House sponsors, Sen. Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said. “The goal was to get to marriage with the most religious protections possible, that aren’t inconsistent with existing civil rights.”
Also rejected was an amendment with a referendum clause, to place the bill directly on the November ballot.
“If ever there was an issue of what you send to the voters, this is it,” Padden said. “It's more basic than our Constitution; it's a basic unit of society.”
But Brown said the Legislature should reject the concept that “separate is equal” and pass the bill without a referendum clause: “The voters do have the ultimate say… when they elect us and send us here to make these decisions.”
Voters also have the right to collect signatures and put any bill the Legislature passes on the ballot, she added. Supporters and opponents both expect a referendum effort will begin almost as soon as the bill is signed; if they gather the required number of signatures, the law wouldn’t take effect unless it passes in the November election.