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Originally published February 7, 2012 at 7:21 PM | Page modified February 7, 2012 at 11:28 PM

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Gay-marriage amendment would exclude religious-school chapels

Although the same-sex-marriage bill the House will vote on Wednesday is more accommodating to religion than the version introduced in the Senate, some worry it still doesn't go far enough.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Religiously affiliated schools like Gonzaga University and Seattle University would not have to accommodate same-sex weddings in Washington state — and could not be sued for refusing to do so — under legislation the House is set to vote on Wednesday.

The amendment to the same-sex- marriage bill was one of several religious groups were able to push through during debate in the Senate a week ago.

Seattle U.'s president, the Rev. Stephen Sundborg, said the amendment protects "us from having to make our chapels available for same-sex marriages.

"To require us to utilize them for this purpose would violate our identity and commitment as a Catholic university."

The legislation, SB 6239, which the Senate passed 28-21, has more than enough votes to pass the House during a floor vote scheduled for 1 p.m. Wednesday. The bill is unlikely to be amended further because that would require another vote in the Senate, which supporters have said they don't want.

Gov. Chris Gregoire is expected to sign it early next week — bringing Washington in line with six other states and the District of Columbia where same-sex marriage is already legal.

As originally written, the measure exempted religious leaders from having to perform marriages for gay couples, and prevented state and local government agencies from penalizing religious organizations that refuse any part in same-sex weddings.

Still, many religious leaders raised concerns that the exemptions didn't go far enough.

• In addition to being able to refuse to perform same-sex marriages, they wanted the right to refuse to "recognize" them, so they wouldn't have to provide marriage counseling to gay couples, for example. The amendment was adopted.

• They wanted — and were granted — the exemptions for religious schools.

• And in the bill's introductory section, they wanted removal of a reference to the state's current marital laws as "discriminatory." Bill sponsors struck the entire introductory section.

Among several amendments bill sponsors rejected was a proposal to exempt judges and court administrators with a religious objection to same-sex marriages.

Another would have exempted florists or photographers with similar views. Such private businesses, supporters point out, are already subject to the state's nondiscrimination law, which the Legislature passed five years ago.

Bill sponsors did allow an amendment declaring that the measure does not affect how children can be placed for foster care or adoption by religious organizations. But they rejected an amendment that would more explicitly allow religious organizations to refuse to place children with same-sex couples.

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

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