Wednesday, January 11, 2012

So Close You Can Taste It: Marriage Equality in Washington

The state of Washington is literally on the verge of passing marriage equality. Governor Christine Gregoire has said she would sign such legislation if it passes. The state House has sufficiently strong support that it is expected to pass there. The real question has been the state Senate. The Senate needs 25 votes to pass the measure. The current legislature has 31 Democrats and 18 Republicans, but some conservative Democrats are reluctant.

The last few days two Republicans have announced their support for equality. Sen. Steve Litzow, who represents Mercer Island, was the first Republican to announce his support for a marriage equality bill. He says, "It's the right thing to do and it's very consistent with the tenets of being a Republican—such as individual freedom and personal responsibility." The Seattle Times suggested this "should prompt other Republicans to make the same decision. It is time to legalize same-sex marriage in this state."

A couple of days later Republican Sen. Cheryl Pflug, of Maple Valley, said she would support the bill as well. She said, "I have been a longtime supporter of human equality. I do not feel diminished by having another human being experience the same freedom I am entitled to exercise. I would feel diminished by denying another human the ability to exercise those same rights and freedoms."

Associated Press has surveyed the members of the senate and says that 22 senators have confirmed strong support for the measure and 18 are opposed. Two other Republicans are saying they are discussing the measure with constituents and are open to supporting the measure. Five Democrats are saying they are considering the measure. Two of them, Karen Fraser of Olympia and Rosemary McAuliffe of Bothell, said they were likely to vote for the measure.

The measure is expected to be introduced this week. Given that only three votes are needed and that two uncommitted senators are likely votes it really means that one additional senator has to support the measure for it to pass. There would still be five senators open to supporting the measure who are not officially committed but only one of them would be needed to pass the measure. It would appear that there is a very high chance of the measure passing by at least the minimum necessary, if not by a few votes extra.

1/14/2012 UPDATE: Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe has announced her official support of the marriage equality measure. There are now 23 of the 25 votes necessary that have been confirmed. Three Democrats who previously opposed such measures—Sens. Brian Hatfield, Jim Kastam and Paull Shin—are considering the measure and haven't announced one way or the other. Another Democrat, Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, says she is listening to her constituents and has not made up her mind. She is from the greater Seattle area where support tends to be highest. There are six senators seriously considering supporting the measure. Only two more are needed to assure passage.

Christian Right groups are promising to bus their people in from across the state to protest as they believe gay couples should have no legal rights to a civil marriage contract.

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