by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
Senator Ed Murray (D-Seattle) has secured the 25th vote needed to pass Senate Bill 6239, legislation that would allow marriage equality in Washington State. Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen (D-Camano Island), announced January 23 she would support the bill.
The state House has enough lawmakers in support of the measure to approve it and Governor Chris Gregoire pledged to sign the bill into law once lawmakers pass it.
Haugen announced her support immediately after a January 23 two-hour legislative hearing in Olympia about the bill.
'For several weeks now, I have heard from the people of my district. They've shared what's in their hearts and minds,' she said in a statement. 'I have received many letters, emails, phone calls, very heartfelt, from both sides of the issue. I've also received a number of very negative comments from both sides.'
'For some people, this is a simple issue,' she said. 'I envy them. It has not been simple or easy for me.'
The Senator says she believes the issue of marriage equality to be, to some degree, 'generational.'
'Years ago I took exception to my parents' beliefs on certain social issues, and today my children take exception to some of mine,' said Haugen. 'Times change, even if it makes us uncomfortable. I think we should all be uncomfortable sometime. None of us knows everything, and it's important to have our beliefs questioned. Only one being in this world is omniscient, and it's not me.'
Haugen, who has very strong Christian beliefs, says she has become more tolerant of others. 'I stopped judging people and try to live by the Golden Rule. This is part of my decision. I do not believe it is my role to judge others, regardless of my personal beliefs. It's not always easy to do that. For me personally, I have always believed in traditional marriage between a man and a woman. That is what I believe, to this day.'
'But this issue isn't about just what I believe,' she continued. 'It's about respecting others, including people who may believe differently than I. It's about whether everyone has the same opportunities for love and companionship and family and security that I have enjoyed.'
'For as long as I have been alive, living in my country has been about having the freedom to live according to our own personal and religious beliefs, and having people respect that freedom,' said Haugen.
'Not everyone will agree with my position,' she said. 'I understand and respect that. I also trust that people will remember that we need to respect each other's beliefs. All of us enjoy the benefits of being Americans, but none of us holds a monopoly on what it means to be an American.'
The senator says she weighed many factors before arriving at her decision to support the bill. What helped shape her decision was an amendment in the bill to provide for the rights of a church to choose not to marry a same-sex couple if that marriage contradicts the church's view of its teachings.
'My preference would be to put this issue on the ballot and give all Washingtonians the opportunity to wrestle with this issue, to search their hearts as I have, and to make the choice for themselves,' said Haugen. 'But I do not know that there are the votes to put it to a ballot measure. So, forced to make a choice, my choice is to allow all men and women in our state to enjoy the same privileges that are so important in my life. I will vote in favor of marriage equality.'
'This is the right vote and it is the vote I will cast when this measure comes to the floor,' she concluded.
And the good news continues to come in. The marriage equality bill moved one step closer to becoming law January 26 when a Senate committee advanced the measure to the floor for a vote.
According to the Associated Press, 'The Government Operations, Tribal Relations & Elections Committee approved the measure with a four-to-three voice vote split on party lines. The bill is expected to head to a floor vote next, though a date has not yet been determined.'
According to news reports, the committee rejected several Republican amendments, including a proposal that would have required the bill to be sent to the ballot in November. Opponents have pledged to challenge any law passed by the legislature and signed by Gov. Gregoire, but without a referendum requirement, they would need to collect 120,577 valid signatures by July 6 to put the issue on the ballot. Which they are expected to do.
'We thank the Senate committee for quickly passing this important legislation for Washington families,' said Lacey All, chair of Washington United for Marriage, in a statement. 'We're excited that this bill continues to move towards final passage, and we will not let up until the Governor signs it. While we're happy with today's vote, we know it is but one battle in the fight for equality, and we will be steadfast in our continued effort to win marriage equality and defend it in November.'
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