Gay Marriage Passes Washington State Senate, Is That Much Closer to Actually Existing

Last night, a bill legalizing gay marriage in Washington state passed the state Senate with a vote of 28-21, three more “yes” votes than were needed for it to succeed. The vote came after an hour and a half of “contentious but respectful” debate, and the same bill is expected to pass easily in the House of Representatives. Washington’s governor, Christine Gregoire, has already announced that she’ll back it. As far as the legislative body goes, the movement for marriage in Washington seems to have been a big success.

Washington is an interesting case, because unlike states like Maryland or South Carolina, couples in Washington can already access the rights of marriage; their domestic partnership rights are equivalent to those of married couples. While those who protest that marriage is “just a word” not worth fighting over are usually unaware that it infers legal rights that civil unions and domestic partnerships don’t, in Washington’s case, the crux of the issue is whether or not the state is willing to grant same-sex families the right to the word “marriage” to describe their relationships.

Perhaps fittingly, the debate in Washington functioned like a tiny microcosm of much of the larger national debate about marriage. It was suggested that even legislators who opposed the bill shouldn’t be “accused of bigotry,” but also that supporters of same-sex marriage “are not, and we should not be accused of, undermining family life or religious freedom.” We don’t always get to hear about the process by which legislators come to make their voting decisions, but the statement released by Senator Brian Hatfield was a surprisingly eloquent description of the moral conflict that many Americans (particularly Christian ones) seem to feel on the issue:

“Regardless of how I choose to vote on the issue of marriage equality, I will alienate myself from friends and neighbors that I have known for years,” he wrote. “A vote in favor of marriage equality will enrage those who see it as a stone cast against God and the beliefs that I and thousands like me have been raised with. A vote against will label me as a bigot who is against extending the basic rights that I enjoy to all residents of our state,” he added.

Concerns were expressed that the bill would somehow “lead to the silencing of those who believe in traditional marriage.”

“It’s ironic how a bill which purports to be about ending discrimination leaves the door open so far for discrimination going in the other direction,” [Sen. Dan Swecker] said. “I’m extremely concerned that without additional protections, this legislation will create a hostile environment for those of us who believe in traditional marriage.”

(Exactly how one could discriminate against “traditional marriage,” or what exactly “traditional marriage” needs to be protected from, remains unclear.)

Even though the House, Senate, and governor all appear to be 100% behind this bill, that doesn’t mean that same-sex marriage is a foregone conclusion in Washington. Although (thankfully) the bill’s opponents failed to add an addendum that would put the bill to a voter referendum, they still have the opportunity to force a voter initiative if they can collect enough signatures of support for it. Those who oppose the bill have declared that they’ll challenge it, but they must first wait until it’s signed into law, and then collect 120,577 signatures before June 6th if they want to get their initiative on the ballot in November. If they aren’t able to collect enough signatures; marriages can begin in June; otherwise, we’ll have to wait until November to see if Washington could be the first state in which a vote by the people works for equality instead of against it.

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Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy." You can follow her on twitter and instagram.

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  1. Having been born and raised in WA I am excited by this prospect but at the same time I wish they would wait until June 5th to sign it…

      • Because I know that every single one of those 120,577 signatures is going to come from one place…and if they only had one day to do it, they wouldn’t get it done.

        • What makes it worse I am from where all those signatures would come from, but I don’t think that there is enough anti-gay marriage supporters, and knock on wood.

  2. We’ll have to wait until November to see if Washington could be the first state in which a vote by the people works for equality instead of against it.

    Well said, Rachel.

  3. It’s interesting that Washington’s domestic partnership rights are equivalent to marriage rights. Do many other states do this? California too? Legalstraddlers where you at?

    • That’s the way it works under federal law in Australia. Marriage rights are tied to living with someone for more than 6 months and being in a relationship with them. The problem is that the couple carry the onus of proof. This can be dispensed with in the ACT, Victoria, Tasmania and Queensland because these states have civil unions.

      • Yep–the Civil Solidarity Pact, or PACS: “a form of civil union between two adults (same-sex or opposite-sex)…Since 2006, individuals who have registered a PACS are no longer considered single in terms of their marital status; their birth records will be amended to show their status as pacsé.” (wiki)

      • Not sure about France but I thought the UK had something similar as well — same rights as marriage, but not the name. But I’m way out of my depth here though, so…

  4. There is a 53% approval rating in WA state for gay marriage. Even if they get the signatures, they won’t get this thing overturned.

    Here’s why WA state is different. Not because we have the “everything but married law”. Because that law is BS and is in no way like a marriage. And never will be until the federal government recognizes it. My wife was only able to change her name in WA state because we have a NYC marriage license. Not because WA has that law. I still pay way more for health insurance, etc. So obviosly it is in no way equal to a heterosexual union.

    But what IS interesting, is that WA state’s government is very split btw left and right politics. The whole state is red except for King County (Seattle). We just usually go blue because Seattle is so much more populated. But the people of the state can be very socially liberal. The problem with other states– Maine for example- is that the government leans left and passed the bill. But the population itself is not liberal and overturned it. WA won’t have that problem.

    Anyway, I really really doubt this will be overturned. (fingers crossed)

    • …until they write an article about Susan G. Komen defunding Planned Parenthood. :/

      There is good news even with that, however. A whole bunch of people (including Mayor Bloomberg) have donated tons of money to make up for it!

  5. What “traditional marriage” is Dan Swecker (and others) referring to? The one where a man has multiple wives, or the one where a man owns his wife?

  6. I surely hope that it passes. On a foreign not, I read an article from CNN tweets not too long ago about France undergoing a lot of political turmoil over trying to approve gay marriage. And many of the supporters talked about how they feel France is behind compared to so many (listed)countries in Europe, because of the lack in political equality.

    America is catching up, slowly, but look at NY and WA in just the past few months!?

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