Same-sex marriage nears legalization

Plan now has enough votes for passage in Washington Legislature

By Stevie Mathieu, Columbian assistant metro editor

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photoSen. Craig Pridemore, D-Vancouver, speaks Monday during a Senate committee hearing on proposed legislation that would legalize same-sex marriage in Washington.

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Did you know?

Washington state legalized domestic partnerships for same-sex couples in 2007, and in 2009 it passed legislation that extends nearly all of the state rights heterosexual couples have to couples in a domestic partnership. That extension of rights was challenged later in 2009 by Referendum 71, but Washingtonians voted to uphold the “everything but marriage” law.

How local lawmakers will vote

How Southwest Washington senators have said they would vote on the bill to legalize same-sex marriage:

Craig Pridemore, D-Vancouver: Yes

Don Benton, R-Vancouver: No

Jim Honeyford, R-Sunnyside: No

Joseph Zarelli, R-Ridgefield: No

Southwest Washington House Democrats who have expressed support for same-sex marriage: Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver; Sharon Wylie, D-Vancouver; Tim Probst, D-Vancouver

It was an emotional Monday for many in Olympia as legislation to legalize same-sex marriage gained enough support from state lawmakers to pass.

“I can hardly talk,” openly gay Vancouver Rep. Jim Moeller said at a press conference, where he got choked up while speaking. “I am incredibly proud and honored to be here today.”

Moeller, a Democrat, has made the passage of same-sex legislation a top priority during the 60-day session.

The proposals — Senate Bill 6239 and House Bill 2516 — each received committee hearings on Monday before jam-packed rooms full of citizens in strong support and opposition to the bills. If approved, Washington would be the seventh state in the country to legalize same-sex marriage.

Before Monday, enough state lawmakers in the House of Representatives said they would vote to support the same-sex marriage bill, but the Senate remained one vote short. Then state Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, announced on Monday that she would become the 25th senator to promise to vote for the proposal.

Opponents testifying against same-sex marriage said they were concerned about the effects on children, gender norms, and whether religious institutions and businesses would be penalized for denying marriage accommodations to same-sex couples. The National Organization for Marriage issued a statement Monday morning pledging a referendum campaign to fight any gay marriage law.

Some religious groups expressed concern that the legislation labeled their beliefs as bigoted and discriminatory. Others testified that same-sex marriage goes against the teachings of the Bible.

“You’re telling me that you know better than God,” testified Kirkland pastor Ken Hutcherson, adding that he thinks legalizing same-sex marriage could open the door for marriages between three adults. “It is written on your heart to know the difference between good and evil.”

Washington state already has a law that essentially provides everything but the title of married to same-sex couples, but many testifying on Monday said that separate does not mean equal.

Although some members of the public testifying said children are harmed when they aren’t raised by one mom and one dad, licensed psychologist Lucy Homans from the Washington State Psychology Association said evidence shows children raised by same-sex couples are just as well-adjusted and psychologically healthy as those raised by heterosexual couples. She added that children of same-sex couples are actually harmed when society tells them their parents don’t deserve the right to marry.

Kathy Sakahara, who serves on the board of the League of Women Voters of Washington, said her group strongly supports same-sex marriage.

“People should be treated as citizens,” Sakahara said, and not be denied marriage “on the basis of their sex.”

Some religious groups also spoke in favor of allowing same-sex marriage, saying it should be up to each religious leader to decide whether they would marry a same-sex couple.

Many businesses expressed support of same-sex marriage, saying it would increase the number of marriages in the state, which would give a boost to the economy and a bump in state revenue. The proposed bills have been amended to protect religious organizations against lawsuits for refusing to marry same-sex couples but does not protect private businesses from discriminating against same-sex couples.

Moeller expressed his gratitude toward Haugen, adding that passage of the proposal “means that I can support my constituents in their quest to become legally married in the state. Separate but equal never did work. It doesn’t work now.”

Vancouver resident Drew Griffin, 38, of Equality Southwest Washington watched Monday’s hearings online and said he was moved by testimony from same-sex couples.

“My first reaction was how wonderful it was to hear the truth coming from those people who really truly want recognition of their relationships,” Griffin said. “When you speak from your truth, people will listen.”

Griffin, who has been openly gay for 20 years, said he couldn’t imagine when he came out that one day the governor, and many state lawmakers, would want to support his desire to be able to marry. Gov. Chris Gregoire has asked state lawmakers to legalize same-sex marriage.

Apart from the label of marriage, domestic partnership benefits in Washington are nearly identical to marriage benefits. That includes, among other things, the ability to make medical decisions for an incapacitated domestic partner and the option to add a domestic partner to a family health insurance plan provided by an employer. Those same-sex benefits end at the state line. The federal government, bound by the Defense of Marriage Act, doesn’t recognize domestic partnerships or same-sex marriage. Hence, same-sex couples would receive none of the federal benefits of marriage.

The Senate and House committees that heard testimony on same sex marriage will vote on whether to pass the legislation out of committee. The bill is expected to easily pass out of committee in the Senate, since the four Democratic members, including Clark County’s Craig Pridemore, have all said they would vote yes on the measure. The three Republicans on the committee have all said they will vote against gay marriage.

Gay marriage has won the backing of several prominent Pacific Northwest businesses, including Microsoft Corp. and Nike Inc., and last week conservative Democrat Jim Kastama of Puyallup, who once opposed same-sex marriage, said he will now vote for it.

Last week, the National Organization for Marriage announced that it would spend $250,000 to help fund primary challenges to any Republican who crosses party lines to vote for same-sex marriage in Washington state. So far, two Republicans in the Senate and two in the House have said they would vote in support of gay marriage.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.