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State House, Senate pass gay rights bill
Seattle Times staff reporter
OLYMPIA — For the first time in state history, the Senate and the House passed a gays rights bill today.
Gov. Christine Gregoire says she'll sign the legislation, but some lawmakers were anticipating a possible referendum to ask voters to overturn the law.
The Senate passed the bill 25-23. The House passed the measure 61-37 a short time thereafter.
"I'm very happy. You know this is about so many people who worked so hard for so long," said Rep. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, who has sponsored for the gay rights bill for the past several years.
House Bill 2661, which has been around in some form for almost 30 years, passed on a largely partisan vote. Two conservative Democratic senators, Jim Hargrove of Hoquiam and Tim Sheldon of Potlatch, Mason County, sided with Republicans. GOP Sen. Bill Finkbeiner, R-Kirkland joined Democrats. He was the only Republican supporting the measure.
The Senate vote came after an emotional debate lasting more than an hour.
Opponents warned the legislation was unneeded, would lead to gay marriage and force people to hire gays and lesbians against their religious beliefs.
"This is a very sad day for the state of Washington," said Sen. Val Stevens, R-Arlington. "We all know it's going to pass."
Sen. Bob Oke, R-Port Orchard, argued the legislation would endorse homosexuality. "I believe homosexuality is morally wrong," he said, contending that the Bible views it as "an abomination."
"It's not special privileges. It's merely saying treat me the same," said Sen. Rosa Franklin, D-Tacoma. "It's extending rights to a group that has been treated very badly"
Sen. Finkbeiner also spoke in favor of the bill. "What the debate is about ... is whether it's OK to be gay or lesbian in the state," he said. "People don't choose this. People don't chose who they love. The heart chooses."
Democrats have been saying for several months that they expected the measure to pass this session. Their confidence seemed to grow with each passing week. There was spontaneous applause in the observation galleries after the bill passed.
Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said opponents weren't likely to give up their fight.
"Emotions run high, and I think it's very realistic that there will be a referendum," he said. For his part, Murray was savoring the victory. But he also acknowledged the possibility of gay rights going before voters.
"It's a moment of joy," he said. "I realize there are people who disagree with us. I just hope, before they reach for a pen to sign an initiative they'll reach for the phone and call somebody who's gay or lesbian and talk to them first."
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company