A gay civil rights bill in Washington State is one or two votes shy of a majority in the state senate, Sen. Darlene Fairley said after a hearing on the measure. "I am very optimistic," said Fairley, a Democrat from Lake Forest Park. "It's the right thing to do."
The house has already approved the bill, and Gov. Christine Gregoire has said she will sign it into law if the legislature passes it. Public opinion at Fairley's committee hearing Tuesday ran 6-1 in favor of the bill, though some meeting attendees warned of deep-seated opposition across the state.
The bill, which would ban discrimination against gays and lesbians in jobs, housing, and insurance, has been introduced--and rejected--annually for nearly 30 years in the legislature.
Democratic representative Ed Murray of Seattle, the bill's sponsor, said he believes this is the year it will pass. "Some have asked, Is this a necessity? Let me assure you, from the school yard to the boardrooms, discrimination is real for gays and lesbians in Washington State," Murray told the senate panel. "I appeal to you as a gay man, as a native son of this state, as your colleague, to pass this bill."
Opponents included the Christian Coalition, Washington Evangelicals for Responsible Government, and private citizens. "Tens of thousands if not millions of Christians hold that homosexuality is a reprehensible lifestyle," said Randy Leskovar, senior pastor of Calvary Chapel in West Seattle. "So when we're saying it is a lifestyle that must be accepted...you're going to have to allow something you think is reprehensible to be looked on as being OK."
Several opponents said they believe homosexuality is a choice, subject to change, and thus should not get the same protections as race and ethnicity.
Supporters of the bill pointed out that religion and creed, which are subject to change, are protected under existing law. And some legislators flatly rejected the idea that sexual orientation is a matter of choice. "This is not a lifestyle. There's no more choice than I have a choice to be five feet tall," said Sen. Margarita Prentice, a Democrat from Renton. Added Sen. Brian Weinstein, a Democrat from Mercer Island: "I have seen gay children abused, humiliated, spit on, called 'fag' and 'sissy,' beaten up. I don't know anyone who would choose that lifestyle."
"Maybe you don't represent all the people," said Ken Hutcherson, pastor of Antioch Bible Church in Redmond, after noting that most of the committee members seemed to support the bill. "When the homosexual community tried to make this a civil rights issue, I have a real problem with that," said Hutcherson, who is black. "Homosexuals have not had to go through what I had to go through growing up in Alabama."
Vernon Johnson, a Western Washington University professor who is also black, said he supports the bill because he opposes discrimination in all forms: "I have experienced discrimination, and I know firsthand the pain it causes. I think what we are talking about is the pain of discrimination."
Carol Waymack, a Seattle doctor, told senators she simply wants her lesbian daughter to have the same opportunities as her straight son.
Several businesses wrote letters supporting the bill, including Washington Mutual, Hewlett-Packard, Nike, and Coors Brewing Co. "I'm looking at how I'm going to invest $75 million," said Clayton Lewis, chief operating officer of HouseValues, an Internet real estate company that went public last December. As a gay man, Lewis said, "knowing I have the same chance, the same opportunity to succeed, is critical to me."
Fifteen states have antidiscrimination laws that protect gays and lesbians. Fairley said she plans to pass the bill out of the financial institutions, housing and consumer protection committee on Thursday. There's no word yet on when it might come to the senate floor. (AP)