Washington State's gay lawmakers are vowing to fight to legalize same-sex marriages but acknowledge it will be a long and difficult struggle. So far the state legislature has resisted attempts to push for same-sex marriage, civil unions, or even gay civil rights.
"This is an issue that affects couples all across the state," said Rep. Ed Murray, one of four openly gay state legislators. "We will fight in the courts, we will fight in the legislature, and we will win."
Framing the controversy as a question of fairness and equality, Murray said he supports the lawsuit filed Monday in Seattle challenging Washington's ban on same-sex marriage. "We pay our bills. We pay our taxes. We're good citizens and we work hard," said Murray, backed by a dozen gay and straight lawmakers at a Monday news conference. "We're tired of waiting."
But the legislature has shown no willingness to support or even consider same-sex marriages. A bill to authorize same-sex civil unions died without a hearing in the Democrat-controlled house this year. A far less ambitious measure to ban discrimination against gays and lesbians in housing, employment, and financial transactions died in the senate last Friday. Majority Republicans shut down early to block the bill from getting a vote.
"There are many of us who see that piece of legislation as a first step toward gay marriage," explained senate Republican floor leader Luke Esser of Bellevue. "It's the camel's nose under the tent and perhaps the entire camel." Esser said Seattle mayor Greg Nickels's decision to recognize same-sex marriage cements Seattle's reputation as "the laughingstock of local governments." He compared it to the Seattle city council's 2000 resolution calling for the removal of the Snake River dams in eastern Washington.
The state legislature in 1998 passed the Defense of Marriage Act, which bans same-sex marriage. Esser noted that it passed with strong margins. "The idea of gay marriage is very unpopular and not supported among the vast majority of state residents," Esser said.
Rep. Don Benton (R-Vancouver) said a same-sex marriage bill "would never pass" in the state legislature. "Americans believe marriage should be defined as between a man and a woman," he said. "Many people would say there's nothing wrong with gay [relationships], but why do we have to define that as marriage? It would be like saying, 'Here's a recipe for chocolate brownies with no chocolate in it.' "
In 1997, 60% of Washington voters rejected an initiative to ban employment discrimination against gays and lesbians. Murray argued that the culture in Washington State has grown more accepting since then and that the legislature is lagging behind. "So many people know someone who's gay now--a relative, a friend, a neighbor," Murray said. "That makes a world of difference."