Marriage momentum continues with bills introduced in Rhode Island and Illinois

Mayor Rahm Emanuel

After Gov. Christine Gregoire signed a marriage equality bill into law in Washington state, momentum for marriage is growing.

In Rhode Island, State Rep. Art Handy and State Sen. Rhoda Perry are expected to introduce a marriage bill to replace an unpopular civil union law that passed last year.

Rhode Island’s Rep. David Cicciline is one of four openly gay members of Congress. The speaker of the Rhode Island House, Gordon Fox, is gay. And Gov. Lincoln Chaffee said he would sign a marriage bill if it passed.

Last year, Illinois passed relationship recognition. This week, the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act was introduced in the Illinois General Assembly. Backers of the bill said that the civil union law that is in effect leaves out some important rights.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who signed the Freedom to Marry pledge at the national mayor’s conference, said he will back marriage equality in Illinois.

In New Jersey, a marriage equality bill passed the Senate this week and was headed to the Assembly. Gov. Chris Christie has said he would veto the bill, and that the issue should be decided voters. According to polls, a majority of people in New Jersey support marriage equality. Meanwhile, in Maryland, the governor testified before two legislative committees last week in favor of a marriage equality bill.

Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has signed on to Freedom to Marry petition calling on the Democratic Party to add marriage equality to its party platform.

—  David Taffet

WATCH: Wash. Gov. Chris Gregoire signs marriage bill, predicts voters will defeat referendum

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Gov. Christine Gregoire

Gov. Christine Gregoire signed marriage equality into law in Washington state in a ceremony this afternoon. However, same-sex couples can’t begin marrying there yet pending a possibly ballot measure.

State Rep. Jamie Pedersen introduced his partner and future husband and their four children at the signing ceremony. He credited Gregoire with doing more to advance LGBT rights than anyone else in the country. Gregoire supported the state’s original domestic partnership law and anti-bullying legislation.

“This is a very proud moment,” Gregoire said before signing the bill. “I’m proud that our same-sex couples will not be treated as separate but equal. They will be equal.”

Opponents have two options. They can collect signatures to put the marriage-equality law on the ballot and attempt to repeal it. If the law goes on the ballot, marriage cannot start until after the November election and then only if the proposition fails.

Another option would be to put forth a constitutional amendment limiting marriage to one man and one woman. That option would take half the number of signatures to get on the ballot. But the law would go into effect in June, same-sex couples could get married and if the constitutional amendment passes, courts would have to decide if those marriages would remain legal. In California, 18,000 marriages are still considered valid even though Prop 8 stopped the additional marriage licenses from being issued in the state.

If signatures are not collected to stop marriage equality, the law goes into effect in June. In a referendum on Washington’s domestic partnership laws, voters upheld the law with 53 percent of the vote.

“If asked, the voters in Washington will say yes to equality,” Gregoire said.

—  David Taffet

WATCH LIVE: Wash. Senate vote on marriage

Via Twitter, above is a shot of the standing-room-only crowd tonight in the gallery of the Washington Senate, which is reportedly set to debate and vote on a marriage equality bill at 8 p.m. Central time (6 p.m. Pacific).

We’re told you’ll be able to watch the proceedings live here. The Twitter hashtag is #WA4M.

The bill is widely expected to pass both the Senate tonight and the House at a later date. Gov. Christine Gregoire supports the bill and would sign it. However, Washington is a referendum state so once the bill becomes law, the opposition will have until June to collect 120,557 valid signatures to put the issue on the November ballot.

UPDATE, 8:05 p.m.: The Senate convened at 8 p.m. Dallas time but quickly stood at ease so the two parties could caucus. The Senate is expected to reconvene shortly.

UPDATE, 8:50 p.m.: The Senate has reconvened and is working its way through several amendments to the bill, many of which deal with exemptions for religious institutions.

UPDATE, 10 p.m.: The Senate voted 28-21 to approve the bill. Here’s a press release from Washington United for Marriage:

Washington State Senate Approves Historic Legislation Legalizing Same-Sex Marriage
Bill passes 28-21 on bipartisan vote; house approval expected as soon as next week

OLYMPIA – Washington United for Marriage, a broad statewide coalition of organizations, congregations, unions and business associations that will work to obtain civil marriage for lesbian and gay couples in Washington State in 2012, today cheered the Washington State Senate’s vote in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage legislation in Washington State.  The measure passed by a bipartisan vote of 28-21, with 23 Democrats and four Republicans joining together to advance the bill.  

“We thank Majority Leader Brown, Sen. Murray and the bipartisan coalition of senators who stood with us today in the name of equality,” said Lacey All, Chair of Washington United for Marriage.  “The overwhelming support we’re seeing from businesses, labor, faith communities and people all across the state is a testament to the momentum of this movement and sensibilities of Washingtonians.  Volunteers from every part of the state have contributed thousands of hours of their time to make today possible, and we thank them for their commitment to this issue.”

“As small business owners who pride ourselves on contributing to our community, we are so grateful that today has arrived, and especially for the support of our senator, Mary Margaret Haugen,” said Larry Lowary and Gerry Betz, longtime residents of Washington who live on Whidbey Island.  “We’ve been together for 23 years and entered into our domestic partnership five years ago.  Now we’re looking to the day when we’ll be able to look into each other’s eyes, exchange our vows and finally say ‘I Do’ just like anybody else.”

“The action of the senate today means so much to us, and we thank all the senators who supported this legislation” said Tara Wolfe and A.J. Stolfus, longtime partners from Olympia.  “We moved to Washington years ago in part because of the open and welcoming nature of the people here – something we didn’t always see in Kansas.  We’re simply overjoyed that our friends, family and neighbors can soon recognize us as spouses and our family as being whole.”

The bill now awaits final house approval, which could come as early as next week.  Once the house has passed the legislation, Gov. Chris Gregoire would have five business days to sign it into law, which she has indicated she will do.  Opponents wishing to challenge the new law would have until June to collect 120,557 valid signatures – the amount required to place a referendum on the November 2012 ballot.

—  John Wright

Marriage equality advances in Washington state; Senate floor vote scheduled for Wednesday

On Monday, the Washington state House Judiciary Committee voted 7–6 along party lines to send a marriage-equality bill to the floorfor a vote. A Senate committee voted similarly last week, according to the Seattle Post Intelligencer.

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Gov. Chris Gregoire

The Senate has scheduled a floor vote for Wednesday, and a majority have already announced they’ll vote for the bill. Supporters say House passage is also assured. Gov. Christine Gregoire supports equality.

Washington is a referendum state so once the bill passes and the governor signs, the opposition will have until June to collect 120,557 valid signatures to put the issue on the November ballot.

If marriage equality becomes law, Washington will be the seventh state to perform same-sex marriages. The state already has domestic partnerships.

Two additional states — Maine and California — passed marriage equality before voters rescinded it.

—  David Taffet