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City Council declines to take stance on gay marriage

Tue., April 17, 2012, 1:01 a.m.

Supporters of gay marriage gather outside Spokane City Council chambers Monday to urge the City Council to adopt a resolution supporting gay marriage. (Jesse Tinsley)
Supporters of gay marriage gather outside Spokane City Council chambers Monday to urge the City Council to adopt a resolution supporting gay marriage. (Jesse Tinsley)

The Spokane City Council late Monday effectively killed a resolution in support of the state’s gay marriage law.

About 300 people turned out to Monday’s meeting, an overflow crowd not seen at a council meeting in years. Of those, 93 people testified. Terri Pfister, who has served as the city clerk for 15 years, said she couldn’t remember such a packed house.

After five hours of testimony and debate, the council voted 4-3 to table the resolution indefinitely. Although City Council President Ben Stuckart warned he would keep bringing a resolution forward until the council agrees to take a position, it’s unclear whose mind could be changed to force a vote.

City Councilman Jon Snyder proposed the nonbinding resolution in support of the state’s gay marriage law, which was signed by Gov. Chris Gregoire in February. Opponents are collecting signatures in an effort to reverse the law by putting it to a statewide vote this year.

Councilman Mike Fagan asked that the resolution be tabled because, he said, it was unrelated to city business.

Five members of the council said they supported the gay marriage law but two of those, Mike Allen and Steve Salvatori, said the issue isn’t related to municipal government and that the council shouldn’t take a stance. Salvatori said council members aren’t likely to effect a person’s vote on gay marriage.

“Not one person changed their minds by talking to me,” he said.

Allen and Salvatori said after the meeting that they are unlikely to change their stance on tabling the issue.

“I’m not sure that the City Council, which is elected to a nonpartisan position, should be weighing in on this issue,” Allen said.

Council members who supported taking a vote argued that same-sex marriage is as important, if not more so, than other nonbinding resolutions the council has considered this year, such as supporting the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes and opposing the Spokane Tribe of Indians’ proposed casino west of Airway Heights.

“I can’t think of a better policy statement to make than equality for the city of Spokane,” Snyder said.

Jeremiah Johnson, a North Central High School student and former member of the Chase Youth Commission, said the vote to prevent a vote was disappointing. He testified during the meeting that he loves Spokane even though he is regularly harassed for being gay.

“It is a local issue,” he said after the meeting. “It’s a big deal not feeling a sense of belonging in Spokane.”

Early testimony was dominated by opponents of gay marriage. They warned that God may curse Spokane for supporting gay marriage, that family structures break down without both biological parents raising children and that homosexuality is linked to communism and anarchy. Some warned about anal and oral sex.

Opponents often stressed Biblical teachings. Marriage, they said, should only involve relationships with men and women.

“It’s instituted by God,” said Rick Layton. “It’s defined by God. It’s very clear what his stance is on it.”

Later testimony leaned heavily in support. Among those who testified was Margaret Witt, the Air Force officer who successfully challenged the U.S. military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

Supporters said allowing gay marriage is about extending equal rights and justice and that gays and lesbians should be allowed to marry the person they love in the same institution as heterosexuals.

Alli Kingfisher said that although the state provides domestic partnerships, the language and privileges of marriage are important. She said she is tired of using “partner” to describe the woman she’s committed to.

“Saying ‘I do’ in front of all of my family, all of my friends, it is so, so important.”

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