Thursday, February 2, 2012

Gay Marriage Looks to be Legalized by Washington

Source: The Slatest

A bill in Washington state that would legalize same-sex marriage cleared what was seen as its biggest legislative hurdle late Wednesday night, passing in the state Senate by seven votes, 28-21.

With both the state House and Gov. Christine Gregoire publicly backing the measure, it should have no trouble becoming law in the state. But after that, it'll face one more legal challenge, the Associated Press reports.

Although a referendum amendment didn't make it into the bill, opponents will have until June 6 to collect 120,577 signatures to force a vote on the November ballot. If they can't do that, couples will be able to marry this summer. If they're successful, same-sex couples will have to wait and see what happens in November, the AP notes.

Although Washington already offers domestic partnerships for same-sex couples, the bill's sponsor, state Sen. Ed Murray, argued for the importance of including same-sex couples under the umbrella of marriage, saying “marriage is how society says you are a family.” He also stated his intention to marry his longtime partner in the state: “Regardless of how you vote on this bill, an invitation [to the wedding] will be in the mail,” he said just before the vote.

The bill contains several protections for religious groups who oppose same-sex marriage, including one similar to that in the New York law which affirms that religious groups aren't required to marry or open their facilities to marrying same-sex couples, as the New York Times explains. Despite this, some opponents of the bill have expressed fears that they may now be the targets of discrimination. Sen. Dan Swecker, who voted against the bill, said he was "extremely concerned" that the bill doesn't do enough to prevent a "hostile environment for those of us who believe in traditional marriage."

The Roman Catholic Church and the National Organization for Marriage have already vowed to help oppose the bill, citing their faith as motivation.

A turning point for the bill's prospects in the senate came when Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen announced Monday that she would support the bill, giving it the number of votes it'd need to pass. Describing herself as having "strong Christian beliefs," her statement is an interesting articulation of the Christian argument for supporting same-sex marriage legislation: "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 said. Her full statement is here.

Currently, same-sex marriage is legal in New York, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, and the District of Columbia.

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