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Senate rejects anti-discrimination bill

Richard Roesler Staff writer

OLYMPIA – After passionate arguments that invoked the Spanish Inquisition, the Holocaust, slavery and the slaying of gay college student Matthew Shepard, the state Senate on Thursday refused – by a single vote – to outlaw discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

“I believe adultery is wrong, I believe sex outside of marriage is wrong, I believe homosexuality is wrong. I cannot give it government protection,” said Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, one of two Democrats who voted with Republicans to defeat the measure.

The House had already passed the bill, first proposed three decades ago. The Senate vote on Thursday likely killed it for another year, despite support from Gov. Christine Gregoire. The governor said she was “deeply disappointed” at the bill’s defeat.

House Bill 1515 would have added sexual orientation to Washington’s anti-discrimination law, which makes it illegal to discriminate in employment, housing or financial transactions on the basis of religion, color, nationality, gender, ethnicity and similar categories. Voters in 1997 defeated a citizens initiative similar to the bill.

Democratic proponents of the bill said that its time has come. Fifteen other states have similar laws, said Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Des Moines, and many major employers backed the bill.

In fact, polls suggest that most Washingtonians already believe that discriminating against gays and lesbians is illegal, Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown said. She urged the Senate to “rise up to this opportunity” and send a message of support to family members, co-workers and neighbors who are gay.

“I believe this goes to the fundamental values of the people of Washington state,” said Brown, D-Spokane.

Republicans agreed – but said that the state’s fundamental values don’t include homosexuality. Several cited the state’s “Defense of Marriage Act,” which specifies that marriage can be solely between a woman and a man. It’s being challenged in the state Supreme Court.

“I certainly would not argue that there’s never been a homosexual discriminated against in the state of Washington,” said Sen. Brad Benson, R-Spokane. But in general, he said, studies suggest that gays and lesbians are better-educated, earn more money and have a higher standard of living than heterosexuals.

“That argues whether there’s a need for this protection,” he said.

Several lawmakers on both sides of the aisle said their votes were colored by their religious beliefs.

“The tenets of my faith believe that love is most important, love your neighbor, don’t judge others,” said Hargrove, a Christian. “Does that teach that everything is OK? No, it does not.”

Some Republicans said they are worried that the bill will help pave the way for gay marriage in Washington.

“Since the beginning of time, people have recognized that marriage is between a man and a woman,” said Sen. Val Stevens, R-Arlington.

Trying to win conservative votes, Democrats agreed to an amendment reaffirming that.

“It’s not about affirmative action, it’s not about quotas. God help us, it’s not about marriage,” said Sen. Darlene Fairley, D-Seattle. “It’s about discrimination.”

Freshman Sen. Brian Weinstein, D-Mercer Island, called the bill the single most important issue lawmakers will consider this year. Without such protection, he said, a person could be rejected for a job because he or she is gay.

“That is wrong, and that is not the American way,” Weinstein said. “A vote against this bill encourages the type of violence that was perpetrated against Matthew Shepard.” Shepard, a gay college student in Wyoming, was beaten and left to die on a fence near Laramie.

Trying a different tack to sway Republicans, Sen. Pat Thibaudeau, D-Seattle, cited the example set by state Reps. Ed Murray, Jim Moeller, Joe McDermott and Dave Upthegrove. All are well-respected lawmakers. All are openly gay.

They “are people who pay their bills, pay their mortgages and put in a good day’s work,” Thibaudeau told Republicans. “Should they be considered unworthy of getting equal treatment?”

The bill was voted down, 25 to 24. Brown was the only local lawmaker to vote for it.

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