This Washington

The GOP Strategy to Derail Murray's Marriage Bill

By Josh Feit February 1, 2012

The state senate is taking up state Sen. Ed Murray's (D-43, Seattle) marriage equality bill, which would allow gay couples to get marriage licenses from the state, tonight.

After a coordinated lobbying effort in which gay rights advocates coordinated gays to "tell their stories" to key legislators including Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen (D-10, Camano)—who decided to support the bill last week—Murray eventually rounded up the 25 votes needed to pass the bill in the senate (the vote has never been in doubt in the house.)

You can watch the floor debate on TVW starting around 6 pm.

What you're likely to see, according to Democrats who are in on the negotiations, is an effort, led by conservative Republican Sen. Don Benton (R-17, Vancouver), to expand the exemptions in the bill. Murray included key exemptions in the bill that say religious institutions and clergy do not have to perform weddings that they don't want to and that they cannot face sanctions from the state nor be sued for refusing.

Specifically, the bill stipulates that: "No official of any religious denomination or nonprofit institution authorized to solemnize marriages may be required to solemnize any marriage in violation of his or her right to free exercise of religion guaranteed by the First Amendment."

Benton, who has talked about proposing a stack of amendments tonight, is expected to argue that the bill needs to include exemptions for non-religious businesses that don't want to honor gay marriages. These types of amendments would violate another Murray bill—the anti-gay discrimination bill that he passed in 2006—and would essentially be an attempt to use Murray's marriage bill to undo his civil rights bill.

We have a call in to Sen. Murray.

Benton has not talked about these amendments publicly and his office would not talk about his amendments on the record.

However, Benton has been public about two amendments: One, known in Olympia as a "referendum rider," (it failed in committee), would say that the legislation must be approved by a vote of the people. The other amendment would clarify that Governor Chris Gregoire could not strike the religious institution exemption with a line-item veto.

Gregoire has stressed the religious exemption as a prerequisite for her signing of the bill (in fact, officially, the marriage bill comes at the request of the governor), and she included the religious exemptions in there herself), so it seems unlikely that she would veto that section. "She's made it very clear that she expects this bill to honor and respect religious freedoms," Gregoire spokeswoman Karina Shagren tells PubliCola.

We have a call in to Sen. Benton.
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