Marriage bills to be debated in Wash. state

Public hearings on House, Senate measures set for Monday

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BACKING EQUALITY | Gov. Chris Gregoire speaks at a news conference where she said that she wants Washington to become the seventh state in the nation to make same-sex marriage legal, on Jan. 4 in Olympia. (Associated Press)

FROM STAFF AND WIRE REPORTS

OLYMPIA, Wash. — A bill to legalize same-sex marriage has been filed in the Washington House as a companion bill to the measure filed last week in the Senate.

The House bill, requested by Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire, is sponsored by Democratic Rep. Jamie Pedersen, of Seattle.

The House version of the legislation, which was filed late last week and officially introduced Tuesday, Jan. 17 has 49 Democrats signing on in support and one Republican.

Democrats hold a 56-43 majority in the House, and the gay marriage measure already has enough support to pass that chamber.

The Senate is still short of the 25 votes needed for passage there. Sen. Ed Murray is the sponsor of the Senate bill, and 22 other senators, including two Republicans, have signed on in support.

Both the House and Senate will have public hearings on the bills on Monday, Jan. 23.

Zach Silk, campaign manager for Washington United for Marriage, said in a statement on Friday, Jan. 13 that the House bill represented “the next step towards making the promise of equality a reality in Washington State.”

“The introduction of this bill not only recognizes the value that lesbian and gay families in Washington make to our united community, but also upholds the longstanding tradition of the separation of church and state in this country,” Silk said. “Marriage is about dignity, commitment, love and respect — it is the ultimate expression of a pro-family society. The foundation of marriage helps us build stable families, and now is the time to recognize the importance of treating all families in Washington State equally.”

Washington state has had a domestic partnership law since 2007. An “everything but marriage” bill was passed in 2009, greatly expanding that law. Opponents later challenged it at the ballot box, but voters upheld the law. Nearly 19,000 people in Washington are registered as domestic partners.

Under the bills being considered by the Legislature, people currently registered in domestic partnerships would have two years to either dissolve their relationship or get married. Domestic partnerships that aren’t ended prior to June 30, 2014, would automatically become marriages.

Domestic partnerships would remain for senior couples in which at least one partner is 62 years old or older. That provision was included by lawmakers in 2007 to help seniors who don’t remarry out of fear they could lose certain pension or Social Security benefits.

At this time, six states plus the District of Columbia recognize marriage for same-sex couples under state law: Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont.      Nine states — California, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island and Washington — provide same-sex couples with access to the state level benefits and responsibilities of marriage, through either civil unions or domestic partnerships. Same-sex couples do not receive federal rights and benefits in any state.

The anti-gay National Organization for Marriage (NOM) has pledged $250,000 to work against Republicans who vote for a proposed gay marriage law in Washington state.

“It’s fairly incredible that some legislators would try to legalize homosexual marriage so soon after giving same-sex couples all the rights and privileges of marriage through domestic partnerships,” said NOM President Brian Brown in a statement. “This effort proves that the question is not one of rights but preserving marriage as a child-focused institution that has served families since the dawn of time.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 20, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

Houston legislators Coleman, Farrar announce plan to re-introduce Dignity for All Students Act

State Reps. Garnet Coleman of Houston, left, and Mark Strama of Austin

State Reps. Garnet Coleman and Jessica Farrar, both Houston Democrats, on Friday released a joint statement announcing their intention to once again file the Dignity for All Students Act when the 2011 Texas Legislature comes into session, saying that “recent news reports have highlighted the necessity for such legislation.”

The news reports the statement references revolve around the recent suicides of teens who had been bullied and harassed because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation, including 13-year-old Asher Brown of Houston, who shot himself to death on Thursday, Sept. 23.

The Dignity for All Students Act would prohibit discrimination and harassment in public schools on the basis of ethnicity, color, gender, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, disability, religion or national origin.  It would also prohibit discrimination based on association with a person, and protects both the parents of students and whistleblowers who may report incidents of discrimination or harassment.

Chuck Smith, deputy director of Equality Texas, said that Coleman has been filing the Dignity for All Students Act since 2003, but the bill itself has been filed in Texas legislative sessions since 1997 when then-State Rep. Harryette Ehrhardt of Dallas introduced the measure.

Smith said the Dignity for All Students Act introduced in the 2009 legislative session, authored by Coleman and co-authored by El Paso Democratic State Rep. Marissa Marquez, was sent to the Public Education Committee but did not get a hearing that session.

Another measure, the Safe Schools for All Youth Act introduced in 2009 by Austin Democratic Rep. Mark Strama, is also likely to be refiled in 2011, Smith said. The 2009 version of Strama’s bill, which expanded and clarified the definition of bullying to include cyber-bullying and bullying that occurs off-campus, did pass out of the Public Education Committee and the Calendar Committee and was “in line for floor debate when everything died in the House in the stall that occurred in an effort to avoid dealing with voter ID bills,” he said.

Strama’s bill, Smith said, “uses language that teachers and administrators can relate to. It would create a definition of what bullying is and what cyber-bullying is, what to do when bullying or cyber-bullying occurs and strategies to reduce incidents of bullying and cyber-bullying. It adds those definitions into existing laws about what triggers some sort of disciplinary action.”

He said that the 2011 version of Strama’s bill — which had four joint authors and 13 co-authors — will include even more than was included in the 2009 version. He also said that Coleman and Farrar’s Dignity for All Students Act and Strama’s Safe Schools for All Students Act aren’t redundant.

“The two bills would both be part of the Texas Education Code, but they would be in different parts of the Texas Education Code. Coleman’s bill would be in Chapter 11, and Strama’s bill would be in Chapter 37. They don’t overlap,” Smith said.

He added that these two might not be the only two bills bullying and harassment in public schools to be filed in the 2011 legislative session.

“There is certainly the possibility that there will be additional bills filed,” And if there could be anything good to come out of recent events, maybe it’s that it could help us reach the tipping point where something will actually get done this year.”

The 82nd Texas Legislature convenes in January.

—  admin