By a 59-39 vote, Washington State lawmakers passed a bill Monday outlawing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in housing, employment, and financial transactions. "It is not about marriage," Rep. Ed Murray (D-Seattle) said in reassuring house members. "It is not about a group of special Americans demanding something special." Instead, said Murray, the sponsor of House Bill 1809, the bill would simply afford all citizens the right to "have a job, own a home, and participate in the American dream."
Rep. Mike Armstrong (R-Wenatchee) was the only member who spoke against the bill. He said he has gay friends and family members, and "I don't think they feel like they're discriminated against." "Creating more classes of people who can claim discrimination is not necessarily a good thing," he said. Comparing the antidiscrimination bill to previous struggles, Armstrong said he didn't believe the civil rights struggle of the 1960s affected his children's lives today. Armstrong said he had a family member who was gay and died of complications from AIDS. "If we want to make an impact on that section of our community, I say we focus there," he said. "I don't think this state is ready for it yet."
The bill simply adds "sexual orientation" to the list of factors that can't be used as a basis for discrimination in Washington State. The list already includes race, color, creed, national origin, gender, and disability. Thirteen other states have banned discrimination against gay people. The gay civil rights bill has a long history in the state legislature. It was first introduced in 1975; Murray, one of four openly gay members of the house, has sponsored it every year for the past nine years. The house has passed the measure three times in the past 11 years, but it died each time in the senate. It faces similar long odds in the Republican-controlled senate this year. "It is time to end this unfortunate tradition," Murray said.
A bill Murray sponsored that would authorize civil unions for gay couples failed even to get a committee hearing this year.