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Council tables gay marriage resolution indefinitely

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

After five hours of testimony and debate, the council voted 4-3 to table the resolution indefinitely.

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 requested that the council table the issue, pointing to a council rule that says, “The Council shall not consider or pass any ordinance or resolution the subject matter of which is not directly related to local affairs or municipal business.”

If forced to take a vote on the resolution, council members agree it likely would be approved in a 5-2 vote. But two supporters of gay marriage, Mike Allen and Steve Salvatori, say the council shouldn’t vote on it. Salvatori said council members aren’t likely to affect a person’s vote on gay marriage.

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

Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart said Tuesday that he’s unlikely to propose a new resolution in support of gay marriage at least until opponents earn enough signatures to force the issue on the ballot.

At Monday’s council meeting, Stuckart warned that he might repeatedly bring a resolution forward until the council takes a stance on Snyder’s proposal, but he moderated that position on Tuesday.

Stuckart said that since the City Council has previously taken positions on state ballot items, there is precedent for reconsidering the resolution if repeal of gay marriage makes it to a public vote.

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.

The overflow turnout at the meeting is proof that the issue is local and affects the citizenry, Stuckart said.

“I can’t see why that’s outside the city’s business,” 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.

Fagan said Tuesday he wasn’t sure if his stance against considering the issue would change if it gets placed on the state ballot.

“We’ve got other things within the city of Spokane that we need to deal with,” Fagan said.

Snyder said Tuesday that he’s “still processing” the meeting.

“The whole debate about marriage equality and how it affects the city of Spokane is certainly not done, not for an instant,” Snyder said.

The resolution was meant to show that Spokane is a welcoming place for gays and lesbians, but by the end of the evening some who spoke said the testimony was sending the opposite message.

Snyder said he doesn’t regret sponsoring the resolution.

“To me, the one thing that was clear was that it was a community conversation that we needed to have,” Snyder said.