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Volume 34
Issue 04
 
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Capitol rally for the Anderson-Murray Civil Rights Bill draws 2,000
Capitol rally for the Anderson-Murray Civil Rights Bill draws 2,000
"A dream started 29 years ago is about to realized in the state of Washington," said Gov. Christine Gregoire on Monday.

by Robert Raketty - SGN Staff Writer

Nearly 2,000 supporters of the Anderson-Murray Civil Rights Bill (HB 2661), which would outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, filled the steps of the Capitol in Olympia in hopes of making history. The legislation has languished in the Washington State Legislature for three decades.

Gov. Christine Gregoire joined politicians and religious leaders at the podium on Monday to declare the bills time has come. "A dream started 29 years ago is about to realized in the state of Washington," she said. "Finally - after far too many years - the state is going to take a stand to say that Gay and Lesbian individuals living in our great state have the right to be& considered as worthy as any other citizen and disserves to work in an environment free from discrimination.

"Finally, after 29 long years Washington State will pass the Civil Rights Bill& The next time I see all of you, join me here to sign the Civil Rights Bill for the state of Washington."

Rep. Ed Murray, the bill's primary sponsor and one of four openly Gay legislators, was also hopeful about the bills chances this session. "Since we last gathered on these steps, our struggle for civil rights and for marriage equality has reached a historic moment," he said. "We are here today to demand that equality be extended in civil rights and in marriage to all of the citizens in this state this year. We are here on these steps, because we cannot be satisfied.

"We cannot be satisfied so long as some of our brothers and sisters live in fear of losing their jobs or of losing their homes. We cannot be satisfied as long as our families are threatened and our relationships do not have the recognition that they deserve.

"Your actions - on these steps - are sending out a ripple of hope to the state," said Murray. "Ultimately, it is your work - more than me or any elected official - that will make the hope that we bring here today, a reality tomorrow."

Murray was joined by several of his fellow legislators. Republican Rep. Fred Jarrett (R - Mercer Island) introduced his daughter and her partner, who both smiled and waived to the crows, while Sen. Majority Leader Lisa Brown (D - Spokane) said she sat with her sister, who is also a Lesbian, in the gallery last Friday during House debate on the legislation.

"If we are going to survive as a race in this global world, we are going to have to find a way around that conflict," said Jarrett. "We are going to have to find a way around so that we can live with people, whether we agree with them or not. That is the greatest challenge to the survival of our species."

The Religious Coalition for Equality (RCE) and Equal Rights Washington (ERW) had partnered to put on the event, which included advocacy workshops and meetings with legislators. "I am here today with my Jewish Muslim and Christian brothers and sisters to affirm that we are all God's children," said Rev. Monica Corsaro, co-convener of the RCE.

If passed, the measure would add sexual orientation, the definition of which includes gender identity and expression, to State law, which already prohibits discrimination based on race, gender, age, disability, religion, marital status and other factors. However, small businesses with eight or fewer employees, private clubs and religious groups are exempt. The Washington State Human Rights Commission would be charged with investigating any reports of discrimination.

The bill was first introduced in 1976. Cal Anderson, Washington's first openly Gay legislator, sponsored the bill for eight years in the House and, later, in the Senate. State Rep. Ed Murray (D- Seattle) has carried the torch every year since Anderson's death from complications related to AIDS in 1995.

The state House had passed the bill 61-37 last year. Six Republicans joined 55 Democrats to pass the measure. However, the bill failed by a single vote in the Senate. Sen. Bill Finkbeiner (R-Kirkland), who voted against the legislation last year, said he would support the bill this year.

Senate Republicans enjoyed a one-vote edge last year, because Democrats Tim Sheldon (D-Potlatch) and Jim Hargrove (D-Hoquiam) joined them in voting to defeat the measure. Finkbeiner's decision theoretically gives the Democrats the one vote they need to pass the bill out of the Senate.

During the opening prayer, Rev. David Strong, a priest in the Independent Catholic Church, gave "thanks for all that have gone before us to fight for equality."

"We thank you for Harvey Milk and Cal Anderson for representing us when they were the only voice that we heard," said Strong. "We thank you for all the people from the four directions of this state who come here this day to stand on the steps of this temple of justice to open the doors of equality. Most of all, we thank you for Ed Murray and Cal Anderson for never giving up the vision that it is not only possible, but it is the right thing to do."

Several religious leaders also spoke in favor of marriage equality for Gays and Lesbians on Monday. Dr. Stephen Jones, coordinating pastor of Seattle First Baptist Church; Jamal Rahman, co-minister at Interfaith Community Church; and Rabbi Jonathon Singer of Temple Beth Am spoke about marriage equality from their various faith traditions. "Wake-up America, same-sex marriage is here to stay. You cannot hold back the winds of change," said Jones.

A marriage equality decision from the Supreme Court could be handed down at any time and further complicate things for the antidiscrimination bill. Washington State Supreme Court Chief Justice Gerry Alexander cast a shadow over the legislation after telling the Associated Press that he would like to see the state's highest court release its decision before the end of the current legislative session. However, Friday's floor action could make such a concern a mute point.

Since the rally on Monday, the Senate Financial Institutions, Housing & Consumer Protection Committee voted 7 - 3 to pass the bill out of committee. A vote on the Senate floor is expected on Friday. Whatever the outcome, Murray, quoting the words of Winston Churchill, vowed on Monday "to never, never, never give up."

The bill faces additional hurdles from those who may seek to repeal the measure through an initiative or referendum. Democrats have not attached an emergency clause to the bill, which leaves it open to a possible repeal effort. Initiatives require about 225,000 voter signatures to quality for the ballot, but a referendum would require haft of that.

A recent poll by ERW found that 61 percent of Washington residents support nondiscrimination legislation that includes Gays and Lesbians. Lake Research Partners polled 600 voters and said the results carry a statistical margin of error of 4.9 percent.

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