On gay marriage, area's House members divided along party lines

By Stevie Mathieu, Columbian assistant metro editor



House roll call

How Southwest Washington representatives plan to vote on the same-sex marriage bill:

• Paul Harris, R-Vancouver: No.

• Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver: Yes.

• Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama: No.

• Tim Probst, D-Vancouver: Yes.

• Ann Rivers, R-La Center: No.

• Sharon Wylie, D-Vancouver: Yes.

As the focus of the same-sex marriage debate shifts to the state House of Representatives, several Southwest Washington lawmakers say they’ve received a high volume of calls and emails from voters on the topic.

“It’s a polarizing issue,” state Rep. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver, said Wednesday. He said that roughly 65 percent of his constituents contacting

him on the issue have opposed the legislation, while about 35 percent have supported same-sex marriage.

Harris plans to vote against the House version of the same-sex marriage bill and said denying same-sex couples the legal right to marry is not discrimination. He said he believes marriage is unique to a man and a woman because they are the only combination with the ability to biologically reproduce.

At the start of the 60-day legislative session, Harris also said it is not the right time to tackle this issue. The state faces a $1.5 billion budget shortfall.

“Our priorities are misaligned,” Harris said. “We’ve been off in the weeds discussing things we shouldn’t.”

Party lines

Southwest Washington representatives are split along party lines on the legislation, House Bill 2516, which is predicted to have enough lawmaker support to pass out of the House sometime in the coming weeks.

For state Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver, passing the same-sex marriage bill is a top priority. Moeller, who is openly gay, is a co-sponsor of the legislation.

The two other Democratic state representatives from Vancouver, Sharon Wylie and Tim Probst, also expressed support for the proposal.

Probst said in an email that he is comfortable voting to allow same-sex marriage in Washington because the bill’s sponsors have assured him that “religions who do not approve of same-sex marriage will not have to change their practices in any way, and religions who do believe in same-sex marriage will be treated equally by the state.”

Probst’s office reported that it had not spent any time working on the same-sex marriage legislation, and Probst is not a co-sponsor on the bill. Many of those who have called his office to oppose the legislation said lawmakers should not spend their energy on the issue of same-sex marriage.

Wylie said she’s received a steady stream of emails and calls on the topic, and that a majority of her constituents appear to support same-sex marriage.

“Public opinion has shifted,” she said Wednesday. “It’s an equal protection issue. I really don’t believe that doing this hurts any of the people who are against it. They are against it for their personal, religious reasons, and we have to respectfully agree to disagree on that.”

Republican representatives Ann Rivers of La Center and Ed Orcutt of Kalama have said they plan to vote against the same-sex marriage bill.

Stevie Mathieu: 360-735-4523 or stevie.mathieu@columbian.com or www.facebook.com/reportermathieu or www.twitter.com/col_politics