Washington Gov. Gary Locke vetoed a ban on same-sex marriages Friday, calling it discriminatory, divisive and unnecessary. Legislative leaders said they will put the issue before the voters.
“I oppose any measure that would divide, disrespect or diminish our humanity,” the Democratic governor said, echoing a theme from his inaugural address a few weeks ago.
In a veto message to the Republican-controlled state Legislature, Locke added: “Our overarching principle should be to promote civility, mutual respect and unity. This legislation fails to meet this test.”
In a separate statement released by his office while he was traveling in Eastern Washington, Locke said the measure, Senate Bill 5398, was “clearly designed to promote discrimination.” He called the bill “divisive and unnecessary” and said the state must “reject hate, violence and bigotry.”
His letter to the Legislature said Washington courts decided 23 years ago that same-gender marriages are invalid, and that gay marriages performed in other states won’t be recognized here, either.
In sending Locke the bill on Valentine’s Day, lawmakers said they wanted a state law, not just a court opinion, banning same-sex marriage, and wanted a clear prohibition against the state recognizing gay weddings performed in Hawaii or elsewhere.
Hawaii courts have upheld the right of gays and lesbians to marry persons of their own gender, but the issue is on appeal.
Republican legislative leaders were disappointed, but not surprised by the governor’s veto. Locke had signaled his intentions a week ago by brandishing a red veto pen in the air when asked how he’d deal with the measure.
House Speaker Clyde Ballard, R-East Wenatchee, said lawmakers will place an identical measure on the November statewide ballot. As a referendum, it bypasses the governor’s desk.
“The public will pass this,” he said in an interview. “When you look at history, no country at any time has ever tried to change the institution of marriage and said same-sex marriage would be considered a traditional marriage.
“This bill has nothing to do with discrimination. It is about marriage, pure and simple.”
He said the measure doesn’t have the two-thirds vote necessary to override Locke. The bill passed the House 63-35, three votes shy of two-thirds.
Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, chairwoman of the Senate committee that handled the bill, rejected Locke’s remarks.
“There’s nothing divisive about defining what marriage is,” she said. “If anything is divisive, it’s changing the status quo.”
President Clinton and 10 of the 11 members of the state congressional delegation, including Democratic Sen. Patty Murray, approved the federal Defense of Marriage Act, allowing states to ban same-gender marriage, so it’s not a partisan issue, Roach said.
A state Senate sponsor, Val Stevens, R-Arlington, said Locke was pandering to the gay community.
“I’m not surprised,” she said in an interview. “He is accountable to his constituency and his constituency is the Seattle gay community. That sends a message to the rest of the state that he is out of step with them.”
Rep. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, the only self-identified gay legislator, said he was gratified with the veto, but troubled at the prospect of a divisive campaign on the referendum.
“I’m proud of him. I think he did the right thing,” Murray said of Locke. “He knows this is about discrimination. It’s not about marriage.”
He said he will work hard to block the referendum bill from passing the Legislature. All 42 Democrats will hold together and will look for at least seven Republican moderates to block it, he said. On initial passage, Rep. Don Carlson of Vancouver was the only Republican in either house to oppose the bill.
“If we can’t stop it, it’ll be on the hands of the supporters if the state blows apart,” Murray said in an interview. He said he fears hate crimes and ugly campaign scenes will occur and warned that the state economy could suffer economically if groups begin to boycott the state.
The speaker said both sides will have an obligation to keep the rhetoric cool.
“Some on both sides get pretty far afield,” he said.
Mississippi recently became the 17th state to specifically prohibit gay marriages. No state, including Washington, permits it, but the pending Hawaii court case has some states rushing to expressly outlaw it.