Washington Marriage Bill Headed For Gov's Signature

In a bipartisan 55-43 vote on the evening of February 8, the Washington State House of Representatives gave approval to a marriage equality bill that had passed the State Senate on February 1.

The measure now goes to Democratic Governor Chris Gregoire, who enthusiastically endorsed the measure in early January.

“This is truly a historic day in Washington State, and one where I couldn’t be more proud,” the governor said in a written statement after the House action. “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.”

Two Republicans joined 53 House Democrats in approving the measure, while three Democrats were among those who voted no.

In the Senate, four Republicans joined 24 of the 27 Democrats in approving the legislation.

Lacey All, the chair of Washington United for Marriage, a broad coalition of equality supporters, celebrated the win but also acknowledged the near certainty that opponents will place a question on the ballot in November asking the state’s voters whether they approve of the legislative action.

“The enactment of this bill will prove to the world that Washington is a great place to live, work, and raise a family,” All said. “We do not doubt our opponents will be successful in placing a referendum on the ballot, and we will continue to build upon our momentum and win in November.”

Once Gregoire signs the legislation, which would not go into effect until June, opponents can file a referendum question and –– even before the 120,577 signatures required to put it on the ballot are collected –– the law would be put on hold until that issue is resolved. Those looking to challenge the law have until June 6 to file their petitions.

The National Organization for Marriage (NOM), a leading national group fighting marriage equality and other gay and lesbian partnership advances nationwide, responded to the Senate’s February 1 passage of the bill by promising to fight it in November.

“We plan to submit a referendum on this to the secretary of state before the ink is dry on the governor's signature,” said Chris Plante, the regional coordinator for NOM. “We've got a major constituency; faith communities across the state will carry a heavy load on this. But they're not the only ones committed to retaining the current definition of marriage.”

The group pledged $250,000 toward primary fights against the four Republican senators who voted yes, but has made no statement regarding its intentions toward House GOP equality supporters or in fighting the referendum battle.

Gay marriage advocates have not offered an estimate of how much they will have to spend to defend the law, but Josh Friedes, the director of marriage equality at Equal Rights Washington, the state’s LGBT lobby, told Gay City News the total spending would be “unprecedented.” Noting the strength of the coalition formalized with the launch of Washington United for Marriage last year, he said everybody has long known that the advocacy effort is two-pronged –– enacting the law and defending it at the ballot box.

If advocates survive the referendum fight, Washington will become the eighth jurisdiction in the US with equal marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples –– joining New York, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Iowa, and the District of Columbia.

In late January, gay marriage advocates in Maine announced they had submitted petitions to put the issue on the ballot in November. If their petitions are approved later this month, they will try to overturn a 2009 vote that threw out the marriage equality law adopted earlier that year by the Legislature.

On February 7, a federal appeals court struck down California’s Proposition 8, but further legal wrangling is expected before the status of gay marriage is settled there.

Washington State adopted a broad domestic partnership law in 2009 similar to the civil union and domestic partnership statutes in California, Hawaii, Illinois, Nevada, and New Jersey.

The Daily Kos blog, in tandem with Washington United for Marriage, has launched an online petition to thank Gregoire for her support of marriage and collect email addresses for the fight to preserve the victory.