With a stroke of her pen, Gov. Chris Gregoire on Monday made Washington the seventh state to legalize gay marriage.
Same-sex couples can marry starting June 7 unless a referendum started by Preserve Marriage Washington collects 120,577 voter signatures by June 6 to place a measure on the November election ballot. The newly formed group filed papers with the Secretary of State Monday afternoon to begin the referendum process.
The final tally of the Feb. 8 vote in the state House of Representatives on legalizing same-sex marriage in Washington was 55 yeas and 43 nays. A Feb. 1 vote of the state Senate passed it a week earlier with a 28-21 vote. Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Montesano, voted against the measure.
Rep. Kevin Van De Wege, D-Sequim, said he was excited and proud to vote for something that will end discrimination and make strong families.
Rep. Steve Tharinger, D-Sequim, called the vote historic.
“Any time we can take off one of the bricks in the wall that prevents people from enjoying civil rights, we should,” he said.
Following the House vote, Rep. Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, said, “I’m still a little bit speechless about it all. It’s amazing, though, the happiness that I feel.”
The representatives, many of whom Rep. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, said started working toward this moment four years ago, finally tasted the sweetness of their labor.
“I’m elated,” beamed Pedersen, who said he plans to marry his longtime partner at some point next year. “We have a lot of work ahead of us in the next nine months, but this moment is very sweet.”
The work he referenced is part of an ongoing effort to establish a group to work with the public in an attempt to gather support should the law come to a statewide referendum vote.
“We have a big campaign that has come together over the last few months and that will grow, I think, substantially,” Pedersen said. “The coalition will keep adding businesses, faith communities, labor unions, all of the folks that want to support marriage equality in our state.”
Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, who is one of the most outspoken lawmakers opposing same-sex marriage, maintains it is virtually inevitable the 120,577 signatures required to call for a referendum will be collected and filed prior to the June 6 deadline for a fall ballot test.
Pedersen agrees a referendum is a foregone conclusion and, though his caucus repeatedly shot down attempts to add one into the text of the bill, said it would be an important step in the national movement for marriage equality.
“We’re to a point where we’re not going to make more progress until we can figure out how to convince the voters to be on our side,” he said. “I think doing that successfully in Washington is a possibility and I think we owe it to the rest of the country to try so that we can move the country in a different direction on this issue.”
Van De Wege said he voted against the proposed referendum amendment to the bill.
“I don’t think the right to discriminate should be up for a public vote,” he said.
Tharinger said in past civil rights movements, public votes wouldn’t have helped the people fighting for equality.
In speaking against the bill, Shea pointed to the concerns about its encroachment on religious freedom and cited Article I, Section 11 of the Washington Constitution, which states there is an “absolute freedom of conscience in all matters of religious sentiment.”
“This nation was not founded on sexual liberty, it was founded on religious liberty,” he said. “When those two things clash, religious liberty should win out every time.”
Rep. Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla, who has a lesbian daughter and whose husband died six years ago, hit back, saying the legislation is not about sexual liberty.
“When I think of my husband I think of all the wonderful years we had and the wonderful fringe benefit of having three beautiful children ... I don’t miss the sex,” she said. “I mean I miss it, but it is certainly not the aspect of that relationship, that incredible bond that I had with that human being, that I really, really, genuinely, wish I still had. I think to myself, ‘How can I deny the right to have that incredible bond with another individual in life?’ To me it seems almost cruel.”
Andee Clancy, a Sequim wedding officiant, said not only could same-sex weddings provide a boost to local wedding vendors, but it also is something she’s advocated for most of her life.
Clancy lived on Castro Street in San Francisco during the 1970s and remembers marching in a vigil for Harvey Milk following his murder. Milk was the first openly gay man elected to public office in California.
“We’ve come a long way since then,” she said.
Clancy said she’s performed wedding ceremonies for same-sex couples before for their civil unions.
“It was the kindest, sweetest thing I’ve ever seen,” she said. “There’s something very unique about being a part of that. It was very symbolic of what was to come.”
Clancy said a referendum would be a step back.
“If people love each other, they should have the same rights,” she said.