OLYMPIA — Gov. Chris Gregoire signed the Marriage Equality Act today that would allow same-sex couples to marry in civil ceremonies and with any religious group that allows such unions. The bill faces an expected ballot challenge, and may require the public to approve it before those marriages can take place.
In a sometimes tearful, sometimes raucous signing ceremony in the State Reception Room, Gregoire said Washington was “standing proudly for equality,” when its Legislature passed the bill over the last two weeks.
The bill provides “absolute” freedom for churches, religious organizations and religious-affiliated organizations to refuse to marry a same-sex couple, or to allow their facilities to be used for any ceremony consecrating or celebrating such a marriage, Gregoire said.
Opponents argue, however, that it doesn’t go far enough to protect the rights of businesses that would want to refuse to provide services, supplies or facilities to a wedding if the business owner has deeply held beliefs against same-sex marriage. They also sought, but did not get, stronger language allowing social service agencies with religious affiliations the right to refuse adoption and foster child placement in homes of same-sex couples.
Gregoire and the legislators who helped shepherd the bill through both chambers with healthy majorities received loud ovations in the room packed with supporters and journalists. As she began to put pen to paper and sign the bill, an opponent mixed in with the crowd twice shouted “do not betray Christ.”
He was escorted out by state troopers, who warned him for disturbing the peace but did not cite him, and he left, Lt. Mark Arras said.
Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, the bill’s prime sponsor, thanked legislators of both parties who supported the bill “at great political risk to themselves.” He and others praised both legislators on both sides of the issue for conducting a civil debate in both chambers before the vote.
And while opponents have said they will gather signatures for a referendum, which would suspend the law until voters decide the issue in November, Murray said that’s an issue for the future.
“Nothing will take this moment in history away from us,” he said.
Rep. Marko Liias, D-Edmonds, said that if the referendum qualifies for the ballot, passing the Marriage Equality Act will be “issue No. 1” ahead of the presidential or governor’s race, or even his own re-election.
Later in the day, Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum is scheduled to address the GOP caucuses in both the House and Senate. Santorum is an outspoken opponent of such legislation, contending marriage should only be between one man and one woman.
Santorum’s visit to Olympia on the day the gay-marriage bill is signed may be a coincidence, Sen. Cheryl Pflug, R-Maple Valley, said.
“I hope so,” said Pflug, one of several Republicans who voted yes on the bill. She said she wouldn’t argue the point with Santorum. “It’s pretty clear we disagree. I don’t know that I’m going to convince him of anything.”
Murray said he thought Santorum’s presence would actually help supporters of the bill in the long run. “His position is pretty far right and this is a mainstream state.”
Among the crowd in marble-walled reception room were former City Councilman Dean Lynch and his partner, Michael Flannery. Although they made the trip across the state to witness the historic signing, Lynch said they have no plans to marry as soon as the bill becomes law.
The two recently celebrated the 25th anniversary of their commitment ceremony, and for now, that’s enough. “We’ll get married when it’s legal across the country,” Lynch said.
Washington would be the seventh state to legalize same-sex marriage. Because the bill does not include an emergency clause, it can’t take effect until June 7. If opponents can gather about 121,000 valid signatures from Washington voters by June 6, the law would be put on hold until the November election. Then it will only become law if voters approve it by a simple majority.