Non-Jolt: State House Passes Gay Marriage Bill 55-43

By Josh Feit February 8, 2012

Rep. Laurie Jinkins (D-27, Tacoma)

State house Democrats passed a gay marriage bill today 55-43, rejecting seven amendments to the bill in a  two-hour floor debate and vote, seconding the senate's vote last week to allow same-sex marriages.

The GOP amendments were similar to the ones that failed in the senate last week to do things such as adding businesses (like photographers and florists) to the exemption clause, which allows religious organizations to refuse to perform gay marriages. Oddly, one opponent of the bill, Rep. John Ahern (R-6, Spokane), who gravitated toward the GOP argument that the bill was a distraction from this session's pressing matter, the economy, essentially argued that the bill hurt small businesses like photographers and cake makers. Why? Because it would give them more business from gay couples. The business exemption, proposed by Rep. Matt Shea (R-4, Spokane Valley), failed 53-45.

The Republicans also proposed to add a "referendum" clause that would have put the legislation to a public vote. It lost 51-47.

The Republican proponent of most of today's amendments Rep. Jay Rodne (R-5, North Bend) said gay marriage "is not about civil rights. There's no constitutional right in our state constitution to marry a person of the same sex," he said, quoting the 2006 state supreme court ruling against gay plaintiffs who sued and lost to overturn Washington State's Defense of Marriage Act.

He went on to accuse the proponents of the bill of trying to "re-engineer" society "in their progressive image"—calling the bill "an exercise in raw political power."

The house sponsor, Rep. Jamie Pedersen (D-43, Seattle) quoted yesterday's ruling in California to explain the importance of the word "marriage" noting that people don't get on bended knee and ask, "will you enter into a domestic partnership with me?"

Rep. Jamie Pedersen (D-43, Seattle)

Pedersen also said he wanted his four children to know that "their daddy and their papa" had entered into a marriage—"the name that society gives to the relationship that society values most."[pullquote]What does deserve a jolt is the speech that Republican Rep. Maureen Walsh (R-16) gave.[/pullquote]

State Rep. Laurie Jinkins (D-27), the first openly gay woman in the state legislature, said: "I am voting yes for this bill because it strengthens families. And ... not just because marriage is a good and noble institution that we want to encourage and celebrate, but because all we do here is for our families."

Powerful stuff. But as we noted last week: passing gay marriage is a big deal, but more importantly, it isn't (55-43 with two Republicans voting yea). So we're giving today's vote a non-jolt: Marriage equality, though obviously historic, is many years overdue.

What does deserve a jolt is the speech that Republican Rep. Maureen Walsh (R-16, Walla Walla) gave. She began by remembering her dead husband: "I don't miss the sex," she said, but she missed the incredible relationship they had. She said she could not deny that right to anyone else calling it "almost cruel."

She challenged her Republican colleague Rep. Rodne's statement that the legislation wasn't about civil rights. "Yes it is," she said thanking previous generations for standing up for minorities and groups that are discriminated against before talking about her lesbian daughter: "She's met someone that she loves very much, and by God, I hope that some day I will be able to throw a wedding for that kid."

Another bona fide jolt came from Rep. Shea, who opposed the bill because he said it discriminated against business owners who did not want to honor gay marriages. He worried that they could be sued or fined for refusing to provide services for gay marriages and said his business—he's a lawyer—would do so.

Shea's complaint, however, doesn't seem to be with the new marriage law; a 2006 anti-discrimination bill, ushered through by then-rep-now-Sen. Ed Murray (D-43), added sexual orientation along with race, gender, religion, and natural origin as part of the state's anti-discrimination laws. Shea's beef, Sen. Murray says, is with the 2006 law, and Democrats believe gay marriage opponents were trying to use the marriage bill to undo the 2006 law.

Shea argued on the floor today, though, that he's addressing a new issue because the 2006 anti-discrimination law doesn't specifically protect married gay couples—as no such thing yet exists. Rep. Jinkins, however, points out that sexual orientation would certainly cover gay couples.

The bill is now headed to Gov. Chris Gregoire's desk, and she's expected to sign it. (In fact, Gregoire called for the legislation at the beginning of the session and asked the legislature to pass it in her state of the state speech in early January.)

In a statement issued shortly after the vote, Gregoire said:

This is truly a historic day in Washington state, and one where I couldn’t be more proud. 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. We tell every child of same-sex couples that their family is every bit as equal and important as all other families in our state. And we take a major step toward completing a long and important journey to end discrimination based on sexual orientation.

“I commend our House members and thank Rep. Jamie Pedersen for sponsoring this bill. Our legislators showed courage, respect, and professionalism. I look forward to signing this piece of legislation, and putting into law an end to an era of discrimination.

The law will go into effect 90 days after the session ends, but will likely be put on hold until voters take up the pending referendum on the bill which anti-gay marriage activists have pledged to file with the financial backing of the D.C.-based anti-gay marriage group National Organization for Marriage.
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