Marriage bills to be debated in Wash. state

Public hearings on House, Senate measures set for Monday

gregoire.chris

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

Unconfirmed reports indicate Sen. Royce West plans to vote in favor of trans marriage ban

Sen. Royce West

UPDATE: Kelvin Bass, a spokesman for Sen. West, returned my call regarding SB 723. According to Bass: “The Senator was not aware of this bill until reading the Dallas Voice article and had not yet formed an opinion but he will not be supporting the bill.” Although West’s office says he plans to vote against the bill, advocates are still urging people to contact other Democrats in the Senate and ask them to vote against the bill. Again, if no Democrats support the bill, it will die. Contact info for Senate Democrats can be found here.

ORIGINAL POST: Cristan Williams, the executive director of the Houston Transgender Center, posted a report on Twitter that Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, is planning to vote in favor of Senate Bill 723. As Instant Tea previously reported, SB 723 would remove a court-ordered change of sex from the list of documents that can be used to prove identity when obtaining a marriage license. The bill has the potential to void all opposite-sex marriage in Texas where one partner is transgender.

Williams’ information was based on a report from a Houston-area transgender advocate who called West’s office to encourage him to oppose SB 723 and was told by a staffer that the senator had received a number of calls in support of the bill and would be voting for it. West’s office has not responded to requests that he confirm or deny the report.

SB 723 was originally on the list of bills to be considered on Monday, but the Senate adjourned both Monday and today without voting on it. The bill is now expected to be considered on Wednesday.

West, whose district includes much of the Oak Lawn neighborhood, can be reached at 512-463-0123 or by e-mail at Royce.West@senate.state.tx.us.

—  admin

Anti-bullying bill introduced in U.S. Senate

Democrat Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and lead co-sposnor Sen. Mark  Kirk, an Illinois Republican, along with 17 other co-sponsors today introduced the Safe Schools Improvement Act. According to a press release from the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN), the bill is the first time a Senate bill with bipartisan support has specifically addressed bullying and harassment due to actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.

Rep. Linda Sanchez, a California Democrat, is expected to introduce a similar bipartisan bill in the House in the coming weeks.

GLSEN said no federal law or policy exists so far requiring schools to adopt policies addressing bullying. Such laws at the state level vary greatly from state to state. Anti-bullying legislation introduced in this session of the Texas Legislature recently had enumerated lists of protected classes, including sexual orientation and actual or perceived gender identity and expression, removed to make it more palatable to right-wing conservatives who control both legislative houses.

Although versions of the Safe Schools Improvement Act have been introduced in previous congressional sessions, this bill introduced today is the first to specifically address cyber-bullying, according to a report by the Washington Blade.

—  admin

Ill. House OKs civil unions; Senate vote today

The Illinois House voted 61-52 on Tuesday to grant gay couples some of the same rights as married heterosexual spouses, including hospital visitation, health-care decision-making and the disposal of a loved one’s remains. From Fox Illinois:

House sponsor Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago, likened Senate Bill 1716 to past landmark fights for equality in granting women the right to vote and allowing interracial couples to marry.

We have a chance today to make Illinois a more fair state, a more just state and a state which treats all of its citizens equally under the law,” he said.

Harris and state Rep. Deb Mell, D-Chicago, are the only two openly gay lawmakers in the legislature. Earlier this year, Mell announced her engagement to her partner while on the House floor.

“After six years of building a life together, committing our lives to each other – we have a strong faith in God and family – and after all that we are still not considered family,” Mell said. “And I assure you we are a family, and we deserve the same rights that you enjoy.”

The bill is expected to win approval from the Senate today before being signed by Gov. Pat Quinn. It would take effect July 1, and Illinois would become the sixth state to offer civil unions or domestic partnerships.

—  John Wright