This Washington

County Council, With Dunn's Support, Endorses Marriage Equality

By Erica C. Barnett January 9, 2012

The King County Council just amended the council's state legislative agenda to include an explicit endorsement of marriage equality. (The council held the legislative agenda itself for a week, after council members come out of a prolonged recess prompted by a separate aspect of the agenda related to Tim Eyman's I-1053).

The amendment, which includes an exemption for religious institutions, got a surprising "yes" vote from council member Reagan Dunn, a Republican, who is running against his fellow council member Bob Ferguson, a Democrat, for state attorney general. Today, after congratulating McDermott on his recent marriage to his partner, Michael, said he would support the amendment and thanked McDermott for meeting with the council's Republican caucus over the holidays.

Late last year, the county council put off a routine vote on the county's legislative agenda after Republican council members, including Dunn, objected to McDermott's marriage equality amendment.

Seattle state Sen. Ed Murray (D-43) and Rep. Jamie Pedersen have said they will propose legislation legalizing gay marriage during the legislative session that got underway today; last week, Gov. Chris Gregoire came out in favor of marriage equality.

The new marriage-equality amendment, unlike the original proposal, explicitly acknowledges that some churches and other religious institutions might choose not to perform same-sex marriages and upholds their right to do so. It reads, in part:
We believe that marriage and the complete set of rights associated with that legal institution should be available regardless of whether the parties to the marriage are of the same or different genders; at the same time, we acknowledge that a religious entity would not be required to perform marriage ceremonies or recognize unions when doing so would be against the religious tenets of the entity.

The proposal's sponsor, Joe McDermott, who is gay, said that while he was disappointed that the church he grew up in did not recognize his own marriage to his longtime partner, "the legislation in Olympia will not require these institutions to recognize these unions in any way." McDermott got engaged to his partner, Michael, outside the state last year.

"I want to be married," McDermott said. "I don't want to have to explain what a domestic partnership is. I don't want to have to leave Washington State to marry and to be legally married to the man I love. I want that opportunity here at home."

Dunn said he would prefer to see gay marriage approved by a statewide vote of the people, not by the legislature, and proposed an amendment that would ask the legislature to put the proposal on the ballot instead of passing it outright. That amendment failed, 5-4.

"I think it gives it even more standing when the entire state has a chance to vote, and I do think they'll approve it," Dunn said. His fellow Republican, Kathy Lambert, added that since the measure would almost certainly end up on the ballot anyway---by a referendum to overturn it, assuming marriage-equality legislation passes this year---it would be more "efficient" to put it on the ballot right away.
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