By Lisa Keen
Washington Gov.Chris Gregoire issued a statement following Wednesday night’s historic vote in the state House, saying the 55 to 43 vote to pass the marriage equality bill there tells the nation “that Washington state will no longer deny our citizens the opportunity to marry the person they love.”
Gregoire is expected to sign the bill early next week, making Washington State the ninth state to have approved marriage equality –either through the legislature (six states), the courts (two), or both (one). Because two of those states – California and Maine – had their laws reversed by voters, Washington could become the seventh state, plus the District of Columbia, to provide marriage equality. (California’s law was reversed after being in effect only six months. Enactment of Maine’s law was delayed pending the referendum vote.)
But Gov. Gregoire’s signature will not make the legislation law in Washington immediately.
According to the Seattle Times, the bill did not include an “emergency” clause and, thus, cannot take effect for 90 days. Meanwhile, opponents of marriage equality have vowed to put a referendum on the ballot for November, potentially delaying enactment.
A local pastor, Ken Hutcherson of the Antioch Bible Church in Redmond, surrounded by a crowd of supporters, vowed, “We will not take this mess any more.” He told the Christian Broadcast Network his supporters would put up a referendum.
Brian Brown, head of the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage, told CBN that “we’re going to be able to get the signatures very quickly” to put the matter before voters. CBN noted that “African American clergy,” such as Hutcherson, seemed to be NOM’s biggest ally in fighting marriage equality around the country. It was a suggestion Brown seemed eager to affirm.
Brown said leaders of the African American community are concerned that gays are trying to “hijack the civil rights movement in an attempt to redefine marriage.”
“What we went through with slavery, what we went through with Jim Crow (laws) is not the same, has nothing to do with an attempt to redefine the very nature of what marriage is,” said Brown, who is white, speaking for African American clergy.
State law requires that more than 120,000 signatures be gathered to put an issue on the ballot. And while Brown and many others believe a referendum is likely this November, marriage equality supporters believe Washington voters will reject it.
“The wide margins by which the marriage equality bill passed both the House and the Senate demonstrates the rapidly growing support in the State of Washington for ending state sanctioned discrimination in the issuance of marriage licenses,” said Josh Friedes, Marriage Equality Director for the statewide gay political group, Equal Rights Washington. ERW is part of a large coalition of groups seeking marriage equality in the state, including the Human Rights Campaign, the ACLU, Planned Parenthood Northwest, NARAL, the National Organization for Women, and numerous unions, Jewish and religious groups, and groups working for the rights of minorities. Noticeably absent, though, is a group working specifically to protect the rights of African Americans.
Friedes said he is hopeful that, since NOM intends to push for the referendum, “We need out of state financial support to counter the bully NOM whose money comes from beyond the boarders of Washington.”
Opponents must gather the 120,000-plus signatures within 90 days after adjournment of the legislative session. Washington’s legislature is scheduled to adjourn on March 8.
“This is truly a historic day in Washington state, and one where I couldn’t be more proud,” said Gov. Gregoire, who announced in January that she would support the bill. That announcement is largely cited as a reason the marriage equality bill was able to move quickly through the legislature this year.
Gregoire, a Democrat, began her second term as governor in 2009 and would be up for re-election this year. But she announced last June that she would not seek re-election. She survived breast cancer (diagnosed in 2003) and said her decision was a personal one, but she added that her retirement was motivated by a desire to focus her remaining months in office on addressing the state’s recession.
“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,” said Gregoire, in her statement released Wednesday night. “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 Washington bill, like marriage equality bills in other states, includes generous exceptions for religious institutions to refuse to accommodate services to same-sex couples that marry.
Senator Edward Murray, an openly gay legislator from Seattle who sponsored the bill in the senate, said last week that he did not believe those who voted against the bill should be “accused of bigotry.”
But animus is a big part of why efforts to overturn marriage equality laws are often overturned by the courts. The Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals panel ruling Feb. 7, which struck down Proposition 8 in California, noted that Proposition 8 –like Amendment 2 in Colorado– appeared to be motivated by animus, not some legitimate governmental purpose.
“Disapproval may also be the product of longstanding, sincerely held private beliefs,” said the Ninth Circuit panel in Perry v. Brown, and Proposition 8 was a product of “disapproval of gays and lesbians.” But, citing the U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down Amendment 2 (Romer v. Evans), it said that disapproval alone cannot justify the bill.
The Washington state marriage bill calls for “ending discrimination in marriage based on gender and sexual orientation to ensure that all persons in this state may enjoy the freedom to marry on equal terms, while also respecting the religious freedom of clergy and religious institutions to determine for whom to perform marriage ceremonies and to determine which marriages to recognize for religious purposes.”
The religious protection language in the bill stipulates that “no official of a religious denomination or non-profit institution…may be required to solemnize any marriage in violation of his or her right to free exercise of religion guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution or by the Washington state Constitution.” It also enables religious institutions to bar use of their facilities to same-sex couples for marriage ceremonies.
The governor’s office was unable to say Feb. 9 when the signing ceremony would take place.