Marriage bill clears Washington Senate

House vote expected as early as next week, but referendum looms

WAVES OF JOY | Openly gay Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, from left, and his partner Michael Shiosaka wave at spectators in the upper gallery after the Senate voted for a proposal to legalize same-sex marriage Wednesday evening, Feb. 1 in Olympia, Wash. (Associated Press)

LISA KEEN  |  Keen News Service

Washington State is well-poised to become the seventh state — and the second-largest — where same-sex marriage is legal.

The Washington State bill for marriage equality cleared a crucial hurdle Wednesday night, Feb. 1, passing the state Senate on a vote of 28-21 after senators first shot down an attempt to put the issue on the ballot in November — even though a public vote is still likely through a referendum. Four Republicans in the Senate voted in favor of the marriage equality bill, while three Democrats voted against it.

The bill now goes to the full House, where headcounts gives it a clear margin for victory. Washington United for Marriage, a coalition of groups working for passage of the legislation, said the vote in the House could come as early as next week.

“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,” Lacey All, chair of Washington United for Marriage, said in a statement shortly after Wednesday’s vote. “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.”

The Senate dealt quickly Wednesday night with 11 amendments, most dealing with proposed religious exemptions. It adopted seven of the amendments but, on a 26-23 vote, rejected an attempt to put the issue before voters in November.

Sen. Brian Hatfield, D-Olympia, who proposed the referendum, announced before the debate that he would vote in favor of the marriage equality bill. But during debate, he warned his colleagues that groups opposed to same-sex marriage are already preparing to gather signatures to force a referendum on the measure this November. Such opponents will likely have until early June to collect more than 120,000 signatures.

Sen. Edward Murray, an openly gay Democrat  from Seattle and a 15-year veteran of the Legislature, sponsored the bill. It calls for “ending discrimination in marriage based on gender and sexual orientation to ensure that all persons in this state may enjoy the freedom to marry on equal terms, while also respecting the religious freedom of clergy and religious institutions to determine for whom to perform marriage ceremonies and to determine which marriages to recognize for religious purposes.”

CHEERS AND TEARS | Members of the gallery look down and applaud as the Senate passes the bill. (Associated Press)

Murray said on the floor prior to the vote that those who voted against the bill, “are not, nor should they be accused of bigotry.”

“Those of us who support this legislation are not, and we should not be accused of, undermining family life or religious freedom,” Murray  added. “Marriage is how society says you are a family.”

Murray said he and his partner of more than 20 years — Michael Shiosaki — plan to marry and added that “regardless of how you vote on this bill, an invitation will be in the mail” to their wedding.

The religious protection language in the bill stipulates that “no official of a religious denomination or non-profit institution … may be required to solemnize any marriage in violation of his or her right to free exercise of religion guaranteed by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution or by the Washington state Constitution.” It also enables religious institutions to bar use of their facilities to same-sex couples for marriage ceremonies.

Many of the amendments approved Wednesday night sought to add to the religious exemptions. One particularly ominous amendment sought to add that no state or local government can “base a decision” to do business with “any religious organization” based on the organization’s refusal to accommodate same-sex marriage ceremonies. That amendment failed.

The Senate also rejected, by 27-22, an attempt to enable individual judges, justices and commissioners to refuse to solemnize a same-sex ceremony due to their personal religious beliefs. And it rejected an amendment seeking to allow individuals and businesses — including wedding planners, photographers and florists — to refuse to provide services and accommodations for same-sex ceremonies.

Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire, a Democrat and longtime supporter of rights for same-sex couples but not always a strong supporter of marriage equality, announced Jan. 4 that she would support the bill. Local news media reported that the governor was in the Senate for the debate and she issued a statement immediately after the vote.

“Tonight the Washington State Senate stood up for what is right and told all families in our state that they are equal and that the state cannot be in the business of discrimination,” said Gregoire. “I believe that this decision should be made by our state Legislature, and I’m proud our elected leaders recognized that responsibility.”

Gregoire thanked Murray for his leadership on the bill.

Murray has been a key mover behind much of Washington State’s legislation to prohibit discrimination against LGBT people. He led the successful effort in 2006 to pass a statewide non-discrimination law to protect LGBT people and, in 2007, led the fight for passage of a domestic partnership law. In 2009, he sought passage of the state’s “Everything but Marriage” bill.

Lambda Legal National Marriage Project Director Camilla Taylor issued a statement saying same-sex couples in Washington State are now “one step closer to enjoying the freedom to marry, thanks to the impressive efforts of Washington United for Marriage, and the bravery of supporters of equality in the State Senate.”

Washington State, which has 6.8 million residents, would become the second-largest state behind New York where same-sex marriage is legal.

If the bill is signed by Gregoire and opponents are unable to gather the necessary signatures for a referendum, same-sex couples could wed as early as June. However, if the opposition does force a referendum, marriages would have to wait until after the November election.

© 2012 Keen News Service. All rights reserved.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 3, 2012.

—  Michael Stephens

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

What’s Brewing: Maryland Senate kills gender identity bill; anti-gay hate crime at UNC

Quinn Matney was attacked and severely burned in an anti-gay hate crime at the University of North Carolina.

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. For a third straight week, LGBT advocates plan to speak during the Dallas County Commissioners Court’s meeting today and call on commissioners to add transgender employees to the county’s nondiscrimination policy. Last month, commissioners voted to add sexual orientation but not gender identity to the policy. The Commissioners Court meets at 9 a.m. in the County Administration Building, 411 Elm St.

2. The Maryland Senate on Monday voted to kill a measure that would have protected transgender people from discrimination in housing, employment and credit — but not public accommodations. The vote marks the second major disappointment this year for LGBT advocates in Maryland, where the House thwarted a marriage equality bill last month.

3. A University of North Carolina freshman says he was attacked and severely burned in an anti-gay hate crime on the school’s campus last week. The UNC administration, which failed to notify students until a week after the attack occurred, now says it plans to report the incident as an anti-gay hate crime to the federal government.

—  John Wright

Marriage equality bill introduced in Uruguay

According to the Chilean newspaper El Mercurio, legislators in Uruguay have introduced a marriage equality bill. The bill has a good chance of passing because the liberal Frente Amplio party controls both houses of the legislature.

The bill’s author, Rep. Sebastián Sabini, explained the strategy to pass the law.

“We do not focus so much on the issue of gay marriage but of equal marriage regardless of sex, gender or religion,” Sabini said.

Laws that refer to “husband and wife” would change to “spouses” or “conjugal partner.”

If one spouse in a relationship had biological children, the law would give the non-biological partner the same rights and responsibilities in caring for the child.

Supporters said they hoped the law would be passed by both the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate by the end of the year.

—  David Taffet

Rhode Island House to debate same-sex marriage

Gordon D. Fox

The speaker of the Rhode Island House of Representatives, Gordon D. Fox, he is doing everything he can to move a marriage equality bill forward, according to the Providence Journal. Fox is openly gay.

Rhode Island’s new governor, Lincoln Chaffee, is an independent. He replaced a Republican governor who did not support a same-sex marriage bill. Chaffee supports passage of marriage equality in the state.

Currently, Rhode Island recognizes marriage performed elsewhere but does not issue licenses to same-sex couples.

Fox said there is strong support for the bill in the House but passage in the Senate was not certain.

The bill would recognize “civil marriage” between persons of the same sex.

—  David Taffet

Catholics For Equality urging support for marriage equality bill in Maryland

The Maryland House of Delegates is expected to take up consideration of the same-sex marriage bill there about 11 a.m. (Eastern Standard Time, I assume) on Friday, and according to Maryland Catholics for Equality, “out-of-state anti-gay calls are flooding Annapolis” to try and get the bill defeated.

So the organization is urging pro-equality Maryland residents to be sure and call their delegates to counteract the anti-gay forces.

In an e-mail that just hit my inbox, Maryland Catholics for Equality say: “Call NOW and let your Delegates know three important things: you are an actual constituent (not out of state), you are Catholic, and that you stand with the majority of Catholics in Maryland in support of HB175 — Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act. Ask them not to bow down to out of state pressure.”

The measure has already passed the Maryland Senate and Gov. Martin O’Malley has said he will sign the bill into law if it reaches his desk. But things are close in the House of Delegates, where the bill was initially expected to pass easily.

If you aren’t a resident of Maryland, don’t cheat by calling the delegates and saying you are. But keep an eye on Instant Tea tomorrow, and we’ll let you know what happens.

—  admin

Maryland panel advances marriage bill

Sam Arora

After three days of drama, a Maryland House committee has finally advanced a marriage equality bill, voting 12-10 to send it to the floor.

Democratic Del. Tiffany T. Alston, once a co-sponsor of the bill, voted against it after attempting to amend it to establish civil unions instead of same-sex marriage. However, Democratic Del. Sam Arora, who’s also wavered in his support for the bill in recent days, voted for it and issued a statement saying he will also do so again on the House floor.

“I have heard from constituents, friends, and advocates from across the spectrum of views and have thought about the issue of same-sex marriage extensively,” Arora said in a statement before the committee vote. “I understand their concern—this is a very serious issue, and one that many people feel passionately about. As the vote drew nearer, I wrestled with this issue in a way I never had before, which led me to realize that I had some concerns about the bill. While I personally believe that Maryland should extend civil rights to same-sex couples through civil unions, I have come to the conclusion that this issue has such impact on the people of Maryland that they should have a direct say. I will vote to send the bill to the floor because it deserves an up-or-down vote. On the floor, I will vote to send the bill to the governor so that Marylanders can ultimately decide this issue at the polls. I think that is appropriate.”

—  John Wright

What’s Brewing: Marriage updates from Maryland, New Hampshire; poll shows U.S. evenly divided

Sam Arora

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. A marriage equality bill once thought to be assured of passage in the Maryland House remains stalled in committee, with lawmakers who once supported the measure now wavering under intense pressure from the religious right. The most notable flip-flopper is Democrat Sam Arora, who campaigned on his support for the bill but now says he’ll vote against it on the floor.

2. New Hampshire lawmakers put off until next year consideration of proposals to repeal marriage equality, saying they want to focus on fiscal issues first. A House committee voted 15-0 to retain the repeal bills until 2012, and LGBT advocates are disappointed the measures weren’t killed outright. 

3. But Ti-i-i-ime is on our side, yes it is. A new Pew poll shows the nation is now evenly divided on marriage equality, with a strong trend of increasing support. According to the poll, 46 percent say same-sex marriage should not be legal, while 45 percent say it should, with a 3 percent margin of error that makes for a statistical tie. Just two short years ago, a Pew poll found that 54 percent of Americans opposed marriage equality, while only 37 supported it.

—  John Wright

What’s Brewing: Marriage on rocks in Maryland; Lady Gaga premieres ‘Government Hooker’

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. It’s all hands on deck in Maryland, where the fate of a marriage equality bill may be decided today. One pro-marriage equality lawmaker says if a committee vote doesn’t happen, the bill will die. The House committee vote was delayed Tuesday when two supporters of the bill didn’t show up. Now, other co-sponsors are backtracking on their support. As someone who spent part of his childhood on a sailboat in the Chesapeake Bay, I sincerely hope this ship can be righted and sail safely through the stormy waters of Annapolis.

2. Gay students at Harding University in Searcy, Ark., launched an online magazine Wednesday called HU Queer Press, only to have the administration immediately block access to the website on school computers. Change.org has launched a petition, but this is hardly the first time the Church of Christ-affiliated school has tried to stifle free speech.

3. Lady Gaga made her runway debut in Paris — and premiered a song called “Government Hooker.” Watch video from the Thierry Mugler fashion show above and listen to the song here.

—  John Wright

What’s Brewing: Craigslist congressman sought trans women; Maryland marriage bill in jeopardy

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. Republican Congressman Chris Lee, who abruptly resigned Feb. 9 after Gawker published his shirtless Craigslist photos, wasn’t only looking for cisgender women with whom to have adulterous sex. Gawker now reports that Lee had also posted an ad (above) seeking “passable” transsexual or cross-dressing women, which could explain why he resigned so quickly. It could also seriously complicate Lee’s efforts to smooth things over with his wife.

2. A marriage equality bill that passed the Maryland Senate last week is suddenly in jeopardy in the House, where it was once thought to be assured of passage. The Washington Blade reports that the bill is short of the 71 votes it needs, with at least one former co-sponsor having caved under enormous pressure from the religious right.

3. The King’s Speech was the big winner Sunday night at the Oscars, taking home five awards including best picture, best director and best actor. For a complete list of results from the 83rd annual Academy Awards, go here.

—  John Wright