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Opinion >  Editorial

Editorial: Marriage equality law harmless, overdue

Gay marriage in Washington state? What’s the harm?

That’s all anyone need consider.

The incremental path the state has taken to extending equal rights to same-sex couples has exposed the shallow justifications for preserving discrimination. When the Legislature adopted the “everything but marriage” law – and voters rebuffed an effort to repeal it – the issue moved into a new realm of acceptance.

No longer can the opponents of gay marriage pin this issue on the “extreme agenda of the homosexual lobby.” Oh, they’ll still ignore general sentiment and use that odious phrase, but it’s no longer credible.

Gov. Chris Gregoire says her Catholic faith had delayed her endorsement of gay marriage. But on Wednesday, at an emotional news conference in which she called for the Legislature to pass a gay-marriage bill, Gregoire summed it up well:

“My church, and any church, can exercise their freedom in deciding who to marry. The state should not engage in discrimination.”

It’s that simple.

If churches don’t want to perform such ceremonies, they may decline. If the state doesn’t want to issue a license, it needs to offer a better reason than “you’re gay.”

To be sure, the discrimination isn’t as far-reaching as it once was, thanks to efforts that began in 2006 and culminated with the “everything but marriage” law in 2009. So, critics might ask, why not stop there?

Let’s turn the question around and ask why we need state-sanctioned marriage for one couple and a domestic partnership for another. Some religious traditionalists say the Bible should be our guide. Churches are free to follow religious texts, but government should follow secular ones. Besides, do we really want government to be an authority on religious matters? The perils of that should be obvious.

Some people fear that churches would be forced to perform same-sex ceremonies. That isn’t the case in the six states that have sanctioned same-sex marriages. Even if the law was written that way – and it won’t be – it would run smack into the First Amendment.

Gay couples want what traditional couples have: a license to marry. They shouldn’t have to accept the current “separate but equal” arrangement, which conjures previous iterations of shameful discrimination.

Gregoire took too long to reach this point. She did so at a time when public opinion has shifted in favor of greater tolerance. She won’t have to face voters again because she isn’t seeking re-election. However, she’s also foreclosing some opportunities for federal jobs, because her gay-marriage stance would make it nearly impossible for her to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

But all of that is a sideshow to the issue of ending discrimination based on sexual orientation. Some lawmakers will want to deflect the issue or send it directly to voters.

We see merit in putting them on the record by answering a simple question: What’s the harm?

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