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