The Washington House approved Wednesday a state-wide vote on gay marriage, a prospect that has Democrats so worried that they’re willing to help Republicans override a promised veto of the ban by Gov. Gary Locke.
It would be the first Locke veto to be overridden. An attempt to override a veto of similar legislation last year failed in the Senate on a party-line vote.
But Democrats are upset that Locke didn’t follow through on a political deal struck last week. It would have had Locke allow a ban on gay marriage to become law without his signature.
Most Democrats oppose the bill banning same-gender marriage because it’s already illegal in Washington based on a 1974 court decision. But unlike last year when opponents had the votes to keep the ban from being placed on the ballot, there aren’t enough votes to block it this year.
Wednesday’s vote was 56-41, largely along party lines, on House Bill 1130, a measure to define “marriage” as the union of one man and one woman and to restate the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.
Democrats and some advocates of gay and lesbian rights think the ballot proposition would divide the state and set back the cause of homosexual rights in Washington. Others in the gay and lesbian community, however, urged Locke to stay with his pledge to veto the bill again.
Locke announced Friday that he had rejected the deal.
“I think governors should not allow legislation to pass into law without his or her signature except in the rarest of circumstances,” Locke said. “I did not have the groundswell of community leaders or business leaders or even members of the gay and lesbian community coming up to me and saying this should be one of those situations.”
Locke, after giving indications last week that he could go along with the maneuver, has upset some legislative Democrats. Now they will have to take the political heat for acting to keep the issue off the ballot.
“The governor had to weigh his promise to oppose it versus the fact that we didn’t want it on the ballot,” said House Minority Leader Marlin Appelwick, D-Seattle.
“I’ll vote to override,” Appelwick said. “I’ll stand up and say it’s a bad bill, but it’s even worse to have this issue on the ballot.”
Locke is far more popular than most Democratic legislators and could have afforded to take the criticism from the gay and lesbian community more than lawmakers could, Appelwick said.
“As the leader of the Democrats, I think the political choice could have been made and should have been made,” Appelwick said.
But wouldn’t it hurt the governor to have fellow Democrats vote to override his veto?
“Tough,” Appelwick said.
Senate Minority Leader Sid Synder, D-Long Beach, said he thought there were more than enough votes to override any Locke veto of a gay marriage ban.
“I would vote to override myself,” said Synder, who a year ago led the effort to uphold Locke’s veto.
Republican leaders in the House and Senate said Tuesday they’ll pass a bill that has a referendum clause - to bypass Locke - and then put it on hold. Then they’ll run another bill that would go to the governor; if he fulfills his promise and vetoes it, they’ll try to override the veto.
If that fails, the bill with the referendum clause will be their hedge, they said.
A veto override is not common. Only once did the Legislature override former Gov. Mike Lowry’s veto. In two terms, former Gov. Booth Gardner’s veto was likewise overridden just once.
But Locke said he thought it was worth it.
“Our laws right now prohibit same-gender marriages, and I oppose this legislation because it is trying to make illegal something that is already illegal,” Locke said.
When asked if he favored legalizing same-gender marriages, Locke said: “I have never been a proponent of same-gender marriages.”
During the 1996 campaign, however, Locke said he would sign a legalization bill if it reached his desk.
“I do not believe that our society is currently ready to recognize same-gender marriages, and it is unlikely such a bill would be passed by the House and the Senate,” Locke said.
An advocate for legalizing marriage between homosexuals said he supported Locke’s decision but wouldn’t be angry if Democrats acted to keep it off the ballot.
“I think the governor stood his ground and will come out looking principled and strong,” said John Wilkinson of the Legal Marriage Alliance.
“But we also recognize (legislative Democrats) are in a difficult position.”