OLYMPIA -- A proposal to allow same-sex marriages in Washington cleared its first hurdle this morning as a legislative panel approved it on a 4-3 vote and sent it to the Senate for a full debate.
Supporters beat back several attempts to change SB 6239, either by adding extra language to protect religious-based agencies that want to refuse foster or adoption placements to same-sex couples or for businesses that want to refuse to sales or services for same-sex couples based on "deeply held religious beliefs."
They would "protect religous freedom, an item of some consequence here," Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, said.
But some proposed changes actually went farther, Government Operations Committee Chairman Craig Pridemore, D-Vancouver, said, and would "allow discrimination for any purpose by anyone."
The committee also turned down, on the same partisan 4-3 vote, an attempt to add a referendum clause to the bill that would force the measure onto the November ballot.
"A change of this significance in long-standing state law. . . requires more than a majority vote of the Legislature," Benton said. "This will change our society in ways no one here can see, 30, 40, 50 years from now."
Although the bill currently does not have a referendum clause, opponents have vowed to try to force it onto the ballot if the final version does not contain one by gathering signatures. If they file for a referendum, the law would be suspended while signatures are gathered, and if they gather the required amount, would not go into effect unless it was approved by voters in November.
The proposal now goes to the Senate Rules Committee, which schedules legislation for debate and action on the Senate floor. Based on polls of senators, supporters believe they have at least 25 votes, the number needed to pass the bill with a simple majority.