OLYMPIA -- Republicans pushed back Thursday against Gov. Chris Gregoire's call for the legalization of same-sex marriage in the upcoming legislative session.
But Gregoire made clear she would stick to her guns on the issue.
One of the main candidates to replace Gregoire said the Legislature shouldn't make the decision on its own. Instead, state Attorney General Rob McKenna said, it should send any proposal it passes to the ballot and give voters the final say.
At panel discussion for the top Democratic and Republican leaders sponsored by the Associated Press Thursday, Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt of Walla Walla argued that a short, 60-day session with a major budget hole is not the place for "social reform" that could roil the legislators: We should leave social issues off the agenda," Hewitt said.
He also questioned whether one of the proponents of same-sex marriage legislation, Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, will have time to devote to that bill while serving as chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee. Murray, who is openly gay, is "vested in this personally", Hewitt said. "I really don't want his attention taken away" from the budget.
House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt of Chehalis questioned how Democrats could devote time to hearings on same-sex marriage legislation when they won't set aside time for hearings on GOP reform proposals: "Apparently we have time to hear certain bills but not other bills."
Democratic leaders said it's an issue the Legislature should take up this session. "This is the right time to move forward with marriage equality," Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown of Spokane said.
In a separate session, Gregoire agreed that fixing the budget is "priority one." But there's time to debate her proposal on same-sex marriage, too, she insisted: "What will history say when we say 'Sorry, but we had a budget to pass so we continued to discriminate.' In tough times, we stand up to the challenge."
And legislators can find time to do more than just the budget, she added. "I multi-task; they multi-task. It can be discussed thoughtfully and deliberately."
In a later interview, McKenna said that while same-sex marriage may be an important issue for some legislators and Gregoire, he didn't know if a short session with a deep budget problem is the best time to address it.
"This is an issue for the voters to decide. I hope if they do pass it, they send it to the voters," McKenna said. Such a requirement might mean the legislative maneuvering and debate over such a contentious issue will take less time, because voters would have the final say, he added.