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Originally published Sunday, February 13, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Legislators target gay marriage

Senators' proposed amendments considered long shots at best.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Washington voters would be asked to amend the state constitution to outlaw same-sex unions, and governments would be barred from providing benefits to gay couples, under measures proposed in the state Senate.

At least one of two resolutions now before the Legislature seeks to nullify Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels' year-old executive order recognizing gay marriages from other states. It would also void domestic-partner benefits some public employers, including the state, King County and Seattle, now offer their workers.

The far-reaching resolutions — which opponents call "nasty and nastier" but which they also say have little chance of success — are part of a mixed bag of bills concerning gays introduced in the House and Senate this session.

On Friday, the House approved a bill to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing and insurance. While some form of the measure has failed in each of the past 28 years, supporters hope that with Democrats controlling the Legislature this session, this year will be different.

The constitutional amendments, though, appear to have little hope of even getting a hearing. Still, Sen. Val Stevens, R-Arlington, primary sponsor of one of the two resolutions, said she wanted to be prepared with a potential constitutional amendment in case the State Supreme Court rules in favor of gay marriage.

On March 8, the high court will consider an appeal of rulings last year in King and Thurston counties that the state law restricting marriage to one man and one woman is unconstitutional.

"We have every confidence that the court will rule in defense of existing state law," Stevens said, referring to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) passed by the Legislature in 1998.

Stevens' resolution, SJR 8210, would place on the ballot a constitutional amendment establishing that "only a union between one man and one woman is valid in Washington." It would prohibit recognition of any type of same-sex arrangement, including civil unions or domestic partnerships.

The second resolution, SJR 8209, sponsored by Sen. Dan Swecker, R-Rochester, seeks to uphold the state's existing marriage laws and places the power to define marriage solely with the Legislature. Swecker's bill would also prohibit the use of public money for health care and insurance for couples whose marriages are not recognized by law.

Senate support sought

For his anti-discrimination bill, Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, said last week he was still looking for votes in the Senate, where the bill historically has met the most resistance.

Murray's bill, HB 1515, would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing and insurance. Fifteen states have similar laws. Washington state law prohibits discrimination based on race, gender, age, disability, religion, marital status and other factors.

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Although Seattle and King County have anti-discrimination protection for gays and lesbians, "week in and week out I hear from people who've lost their jobs or been unable to rent — more often in rural and suburban areas," said Murray, who is openly gay.

"Fairness demands that we treat all our citizens equally."

Constitutional ban eyed

Gay-rights advocates say a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage would move Washington in the opposite direction.

But voters in 17 other states have amended their constitutions to ban gay marriage; 11 of those amendments were approved in November's election.

Last week, the Virginia Senate and House approved separate constitutional amendments to ban gay marriage. A similar bill is moving through the Indiana General Assembly.

Gay-marriage supporters say the two constitutional-amendment resolutions in the Washington state Senate could never get the two-thirds majority needed to move from the Legislature to the ballot, and are therefore unworthy of attention.

"They're trying to push this even further than a ban on marriage equality," said Roger Winters of the Legal Marriage Alliance of Washington, a gay-rights group. "In this state, we have a tradition of being concerned about minority rights."

The Rev. Joseph Fuiten, president of Washington Evangelicals for Responsible Government, said the definition of marriage is one that voters — not nine justices — should get to decide.

"Across the country, what we're seeing is a reaction against the courts and a move against gay marriage," Fuiten said.

"The people don't want this," he said of gay marriage. "And if we voted on it here in Washington today, that would be clear. That's why the Democrats won't give the people a vote."

Lornet Turnbull: 206-464-2420 or lturnbull@seattletimes.com

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