This Washington

With Four Republicans Voting in Favor, Gay Marriage Bill Passes Senate 28-21

By Josh Feit February 1, 2012

Sen. Murray's partner, Michael Shiosaki, celebrates in the senate wings after the vote.

With four Republicans voting along with the Democrats, Sen. Ed Murray's marriage equality bill passed the state senate tonight, 28-21. The four Republicans were Sens. Joe Fain, Andy Hill, Steve Litzow, and Cheryl Pflug. The three Democrats (of their 27-member majority) voting against the bill were Sens. Jim Hargrove , Tim Sheldon, and Paull Shin.

At six o'clock sharp, the senate began its session on Murray's gay marriage legislation, and then, just as quickly, both parties called for a recess to caucus.

The senate president, Lt. Gov. Brad Owen, took advantage of the immediate break to welcome the people in the packed galleries above—"both for and against today's legislation"—and then politely told them to follow the strict rules of the senate; specifically, to refrain from making any noise during the proceedings. Earlier, when Sen. Murray, and later lesbian state Rep. Laurie Jinkins (D-27, Tacoma), strolled through the galleries, the crowds erupted into loud applause.

Murray's bill, dubbed the "Civil Marriage Equality" bill would allow gay and lesbian couples to marry. The bill comes with exemptions for religious institutions allowing them to opt out of doing any marriage they don't want to do. It also protects them from being sued for refusing to perform gay marriages.

Gays and lesbian couples already have all the legal rights and responsibilities of straight married couples under Washington State's domestic partner laws, to actually get married. In a written statement that he handed out before the debate, Murray explained the difference, calling marriage "a public statement of commitment, and provides families intangible benefits including clarity, security, dignity, spiritual significance, and an expectation of permanence."

Before the hearing, in a press conference, Murray contemplated the question, said the people "just don't get domestic partnerships," fumbled through some legal rational ("pensions?") then finally came to a straightforward explanation: "“This is how society says, 'you’re a family.'”

A series of friendly amendments were offered by the Republicans clarifying what constituted a religious institution and (from Fain) broadening the exemption to include "counsel" in addition to performing a marriage, presumably the reason for his 'yes' vote.

Several amendments were shot down, including one from Republican Sen. Mike Padden that would have added judges, justices, and commissioners to the exemption; one, from Republican Sen. Dan Swecker, would have added businesses, such as "Catholic florists," who don't want to recognize gay marriages; and one from Sen. Don Benton that would have prevented religious adoption agencies from placing children in homes of gay couples. All three failed.

Murray himself spoke against the business amendment, saying that "it reached into our civil rights statutes." Brown followed up, saying there'd been no problem with the civil rights bill like this and that "it was a solution in search of a problem." Republican Pflug also spoke against the amendment on the grounds that it wasn't friendly. It was defeated 27-22 with two Republicans voting against: Litzow and Pflug. Fain voted for it.

Then Democratic Sen. Brian Hatfield, a conservative who came out in support of the bill about an hour before the debate, proposed "the referendum amendment" which would have automatically put the legislation to a public vote.

Sen. Brown spoke against the amendment saying, "Because I see this through the frame of equal rights" and the we "shouldn't subject the rights of a minority to the whims of the majority." Brown also got personal, referencing her gay sister, explaining that she didn't think the public should have the right to tell her sister whether or not she could do something that Brown herself could do.

Sen. Padden said it should go to the people because the institution of marriage predates the constitution  and is the bedrock of society.

Benton, who scoffed that the legislation only affected "less than one half of one percent of the population" also spoke in favor of the amendment, pointing out that other "heavy issues" like school levies have gone to the people and asked why there was a double standard. He said the issue was "just too important for the legislature to decide ... issues like this one is just why the initiative process exists."

Murray pointed out that the school levy had to go on the ballot because the constitution required it. Murray also used Benton's stats against the referendum amendment,  then cited the Federalist Papers and James Madison repeating Brown's point that the whims of the majority should not decide the rights of a minority."

The amendment failed and then the legislation itself came up for a vote.

Murray spoke in favor. He called domestic partnership "an imperfect partnership." And dramatically concluded: "Like you, we seek the chance to live our lives, to experience joy,  to care for our family, and to contribute to the country we love."

Democratic Sen. Debbie Ragala gave perhaps the most moving testimony citing her own interracial marriage, which used to be illegal. Sen. Kevin Ranker also gave a moving speech talking about his gay father who was ostracized by his community saying that "separate can never be equal." (Go to TVW and watch the replay. Ranker's speech—which he concluded by talking about how he and his wife pass on the values he learned from his father to his daughter—it is a tear-jerker.)

Republican Sen. Dan Swecker spoke against the bill because he thought it was hypocritical. "The bill purports to about about non-discrimination," he said, "but it will lead to a hostile environment to those of those of us that believe in traditional marriage," citing the "florist" example again.

Ultimately, Republican Steve Litzow, one of the key Republicans who swung the vote into the "Yes" column, made the clearest argument for the bill: "This bill is bout letting people marry the person they love. It's that simple for me. Adults should be able to decide for themselves who they want to marry." He also offered some advice to gay couples who are planning to wed: “We cannot guarantee the outcome of that pursuit. The legislation’s good, but it’s not that good.”

Murray ended the debate by saying all members, regardless of how they voted, would be getting "an invitation" in the mail from he and his partner Michael Shiosaki. (Democratic Sen. Margarita Prentice actually ended the debate moments before Murray by joking: "We've all had our say, but I think we've just about wrapped it up."

After the vote Sen. Murray headed over to the reporters' table telling us he was told to make himself available. No one looked up—as we were all trying to publish. "Don't get drunk yet," one reporter called out, letting him know we'd come find him for quotes later.

"I can't [have a drink]," Murray, the senate budget chair said, "now I've got a budget to pass."
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