by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
With the nation looking on, the state House of Representatives - after two hours of respectful and intense debate - voted 55 to 43 on February 8 to make Washington the seventh state to legalize marriage equality.
'This is truly a historic day in Washington state, and one where I couldn't be more proud,' Gregoire said in a statement following the vote. 'With today's vote, we tell the nation that Washington state will no longer deny our citizens the opportunity to marry the person they love.'
Gregoire is scheduled to sign the bill into law Monday morning at 11:30 a.m. at a ceremony in Olympia. The law would then take effect 90 days after the session ends next month, but opponents have promised to take their fight to the ballot box and put the issue up for popular vote in a November election. In order to do that, marriage equality opponents must turn in more than 120,000 signatures by June 6 if they want to challenge the proposed law. Although they are expected to gather the signatures needed, on the off chance that they fail at their endeavor, same-sex couples could wed as early as June.
Same-sex marriage is legal in New York, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Washington, D.C.
Throughout the debate on the House floor on Wednesday, more than one legislator brought up the fact that the marriage equality issue was one of the most difficult issues put before the body. Lawmakers said they had to face their conscience, religious beliefs, and more when asked to cast their vote.
Gregoire watched the House vote from the wings with the bill's Senate sponsor, Ed Murray. The public viewing gallery was packed with marriage equality supporters and many more watched streaming video of the debate at home or in their offices.
Rep. Jamie Pedersen, who sponsored the bill in the House, cited Tuesday's ruling by the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals when he addressed fellow legislators before the vote. Pedersen quoted, 'marriage is the name that society gives to the relationship that matters most between two adults,' during his speech.
Two Republicans crossed party lines to support the bill.
'Someone made the comment that this is not about equality,' said Maureen Walsh, a Republican legislator who voted in favor of the measure. 'Well, yes, it is about equality.'
Walsh told fellow lawmakers that after her daughter came out as a Lesbian to her she thought she 'would agonize about that.'
'But nothing is different,' she said. 'She's still a fabulous human being and she's met a person who she loves very much and someday, by God, I want to throw a wedding for that kid. I hope that's what I can do.'
Rep. Glenn Anderson, a Republican from Fall City, said, 'separate by name and act is not equal' before casting his vote in favor of marriage equality.
'This is about families, this is about kids, this is about love and commitment,' said Rep. Laurie Jinkins, an out Lesbian Democratic lawmaker from Tacoma. 'It is about standing before family and friends and making the commitment of a lifetime.'
Countering the religious right's view that all Christians should be against marriage equality, Rep. Drew Hansen (D-Bainbridge) said his pastor urged him to vote for the measure.
'We have a lot of Gay brothers and sisters in church, you know,' he said.
In all, only three Democrats voted against the legislation.
Opponents of the bill argued religious objection to the proposed law and said their constituents were confused as to why the House was debating a social justice issue when the state is in financial trouble.
Rep. Jay Rodne (R-North Bend) said the issue of marriage equality is 'not about civil rights.'
'As it is today, there is coequal treatment under the law of domestic partnership and marriage,' he argued.
Rep. Jim McCune (R-Graham) warned, 'God would hold us all accountable for our actions here today.'
McCune said, 'Washington state has truly separated God from government.'
Arguing that the bill goes against traditional marriage, Rep. Rodne said the legislation 'severs the cultural, historical, and legal underpinnings of the institute of marriage.'
At the end of the debate it was marriage equality that won over religious objection and so-called traditional marriage. With a 55-43 vote, Washington state took one more step towards true equality.
'Freedom to Marry is proud to be a lead coalition partner in Washington United for Marriage, which worked tirelessly to educate legislators and citizens about why marriage matters to Gay couples and their families,' said Thalia Zepatos, director of public engagement at Freedom to Marry. 'Today's win also comes as the result of dedication from elected officials like Rep. Jamie Pedersen, whose courageous leadership paved the way for this bill's passage in the House. Freedom to Marry is prepared to see this victory through so that loving and committed couples in Washington are free to exercise their freedom to marry.'
Zach Silk, campaign manager for Washington United for Marriage, the coalition working to bring marriage equality to Washington state in 2012 said, 'There was cheering and hollering in the gallery. It was a great moment. Marriage equality is about to become law.'
Opponents of marriage equality have already promised to challenge the measure at the ballot with a referendum, which would ask voters whether they want to uphold or overturn it.
In a University of Washington poll, released in October 2011, researchers found an increasing number of people in the state support marriage equality. About 43% of respondents said they support Gay marriage - up from 30% in the same poll five years earlier.
Of particular interest to marriage equality supporters, the poll found that if a challenge to marriage equality law appeared on a ballot, 55% said they would vote to uphold the law. And 38% said they would vote to reject the law.
Stephen Pidgeon, an Everett attorney and marriage equality opponent, filed an initiative last month seeking to change the current state statute, which says that marriage is a civil contract 'between a male and a female.' Pidgeon wants the wording to be changed to 'between one man and one woman.'
Pidgeon says he will push for his initiative effort in spite of the fact that other conservative groups are forming a coalition to move forward with their signature-gathering effort to put marriage equality up for popular vote.
In other words, in November, Washington voters could face two ballot measures concerning marriage equality.
To qualify for the November ballot, Pidgeon must submit a minimum of 241,153 valid signatures from registered voters by July 6.
Although no official organization has stepped forward to support the referendum to overturn the marriage equality bill, several groups involved say there could be an announcement made as early as next week. To qualify the referendum for the ballot, more than 120,000 signatures would need to be submitted by June 6.
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