OLYMPIA – By a vote of 55-43, the House passed and sent to Gov. Chris Gregoire a bill that would allow same-sex couples to marry in Washington. Gregoire, who has already called for such legislation, will sign it sometime within the next week.
After nearly two and a half hours of debate, the House passed SB 6239 without amendments, setting Washington up to be the seventh state in the U.S. to legalize same-sex marriage.
In a debate both impassioned and respectful, supporters described struggles and discrimination they or their children have had as homosexuals and likened the current laws to statutes that kept interracial couples from marrying.
“Marriage is the word our society uses to describe a committed, lifelong relationship,” said Rep. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, who with his partner is raising four children. “Even TurboTax doesn’t understand ‘domestic partnership.’ ”
Rep. Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla, said she wouldn’t want to deny anyone the chance to have the kind of bond she had with her late husband and hoped someday to be able to throw a wedding for her lesbian daughter.
Opponents said the Legislature doesn’t have the authority to change the traditional definition of marriage and should spend its time solving the budget problems or boosting the economy.
Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, said the bill won’t correct past injustice because same-sex couples have rights under the state’s domestic partnership law. Instead, he said, it will create injustices by not allowing business owners with deeply held religious beliefs to refuse service to same-sex couples.
“This bill doesn’t go far enough to protect religious liberty,” Shea said.
The session was already halfway over, yet the House was spending its time addressing a “name change,” said Rep. John Ahern, R-Spokane.
Over the course of the debate, speakers from both sides quoted the Bible. Some cited Abraham Lincoln, Frank Sinatra or Groucho Marx; one even made a reference to a Super Bowl commercial for Jack in the Box.
For all the rhetoric, however, the outcome was never in doubt. A handful of amendments were rejected by comfortable margins. Like the vote in the Senate last week, it was not an exclusively partisan vote: two Republicans voted yes with majority Democrats; three Democrats voted no with minority Republicans.
The packed galleries, which had been silent through the debate, erupted in cheers and a few shouts of “thank you” when the tally was announced.
Within minutes of the final vote, Gregoire’s office released a statement that she was “looking forward” to signing the bill into law. A spokeswoman said a date had not yet been set for the ceremonial signing but she anticipated a sizable crowd.
Under law, the governor has five days from the day the legislation is “transmitted” from the House, a process that sometimes takes a day or two.
But any gay marriages in the state are, at the least, months away. The law is likely to be sidetracked by a referendum, which would make it subject to a vote in November. Opponents have said they will file a referendum and attempt to gather the more than 120,000 signatures by June 6 to put it on the general election ballot.
Without those signatures, the law takes effect on June 7; if the petition drive is successful, it doesn’t take effect unless voters approve it in November and the vote is certified Dec. 6.