Gay marriage? State lawmakers wonder if votes are there
Two key Democratic state lawmakers are considering a major push to try and pass a gay marriage law in Washington next year.
Seattle Times Olympia bureau
OLYMPIA — Two key Democratic state lawmakers are considering a major push to try and pass a gay-marriage law in Washington next year.
Sen. Ed Murray and Rep. Jamie Pedersen, gay lawmakers from the 43rd District in Seattle, said they're in early discussions and have to run the idea by community and legislative leaders.
The Legislature convenes in January.
Murray was the prime sponsor of landmark gay-rights legislation approved by the Legislature in 2006 and a domestic-partnership law that passed in 2007.
Washington's domestic-partnership law provides same-sex couples legal benefits similar to those of marriage. Pedersen has played a leading role in expanding the law over the past several years, but gay-marriage advocates say that law does not go far enough.
"We've always said that domestic partnership was not an end to itself but a path toward marriage," Murray said.
The prospect of pushing gay-marriage legislation to a floor vote next year is getting more serious consideration than it has in the past, he said.
The New York Legislature's vote in June to legalize gay marriage does not factor much into the decision, other than "every time a state passes marriage and the world doesn't fall apart ... it helps," Murray said.
In addition to New York, the states of Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont and New Hampshire and the District of Columbia issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
It took the Washington Legislature nearly 30 years to pass its gay-rights law in 2006, House Bill 2661. The measure, which was controversial at the time, added sexual orientation to an existing state law that banned discrimination by race, sex, religion, national origin, marital status and other categories.
Now Murray says the state is ready for gay marriage.
"I don't believe it's as radioactive as even the civil-rights bill six years ago," he said. "I think people in this state have moved on."
Sen. Dan Swecker, R-Rochester, who's consistently voted against gay-rights and domestic-partnership legislation, said he would expect strong opposition to gay marriage in his caucus.
"I think primarily the Republicans, but (also) some Democrats, tend to support the traditional definition of marriage and think it's a mistake to try to change that," Swecker said.
Democrats currently hold a 27-to-22 majority in the Senate and a 56-to-42 advantage in the House.
Given that it appears likely lawmakers will have another gaping hole in the budget to deal with next year, it's a bad idea to bring another divisive issue to the table, Swecker said. "It would be unfortunate to try to complicate the legislative process by adding this issue on top of it," he said.
Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, countered: "I believe that it's always the right time to bring up issues of fairness and equality."
That said, Brown's not certain yet if 2012 will be the year her caucus will tackle gay marriage. "I anticipate that we'll get there in Washington state. I don't know for sure if it's this year because we don't have a vote count yet in the Senate," she said.
Records show state Sens. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, and Tim Sheldon, D-Potlach, voted against both the gay-rights and domestic-partnership bills. Sen. Brian Hatfield, D-Raymond, also voted against the domestic-partnership bill; he was not a senator when the gays-right measure passed.
"The Senate has always been a problem," Murray said. "I know we do not have enough votes in the Democratic caucus in the Senate to pass marriage and that it would require ... a bipartisan vote, with some Republicans voting for it."
Currently, it appears they're a few votes short, he said.
The House may have enough votes to pass the legislation. "But there's never been a hard count, saying this year in an election year, will you vote for this bill? That has not happened," Murray said.
Pedersen said there are a number of issues to sort through, including the prospect of a ballot challenge if the Legislature approved gay marriage. He said a decision on whether to move forward is likely within the next couple of months.
Andrew Garber: 360-236-8266 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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