Washington Governor Maps Marriage Equality Journey
BY Julie Bolcer
January 19 2012 5:05 AM ET
Home to nearly 7 million people, Washington is the most populous state in the West behind California and a coveted outpost for advocates waging the state-by-state marriage equality battle. The Evergreen State took a promising step toward handing the region a victory earlier this month when Gov. Christine Gregoire proposed a same-sex marriage bill, becoming one of a handful of state chief executives, all Democrats and Catholics, to push the issue, and the only woman among their ranks.
“It’s been always on my mind tangentially and thinking about it, but I knew now was the time to face it,” she said in an interview with The Advocate the week after her January 4 announcement. “And as I faced it both as a mom and as a wife and as a Catholic, as a governor, and wrote it down on a piece of paper, the logic of it all fell into the words that I put down there.”
During her press conference at the capitol in Olympia, the former attorney general read a 10-minute statement that debunked familiar arguments against marriage equality, such as reserving marriage for heterosexual procreation, and drew parallels to earlier fights against racial and sex discrimination. Three months of preparation went into the speech, including a 3 a.m. session in which she honed the language to encourage the state legislature to consider the issue “thoughtfully and respectfully.”
“I wanted everything in there that I’d ever heard, and I wanted to take it on squarely,” she said. “The idea of separate but equal is not equal.”
Momentum exists for the marriage equality bill, where 23 senators, including two Republicans, support the measure, leaving it two votes shy of the 25 needed for passage in the Democratic-controlled chamber. The bill is expected to clear the House, and public hearings are scheduled for this Monday. Meanwhile, the governor and advocates continue to lobby a bipartisan group of six undecided senators, and one conservative Democrat on the fence plans to announce his position Thursday afternoon.
Gregoire expressed cautious optimism about the prospects for the bill, saying that one immediate obstacle concerned whether lawmakers would agree to pass it as filed, without a referendum clause. Such a clause would impose a requirement that the voting public approve the measure. As it stands now, under state law, if the bill passes without a referendum clause, petitioners would still have the right to challenge it, but only after gathering 120,557 valid signatures.
“One of the big issues, frankly, is that I believe we have sufficient numbers to get the votes and put it on the ballot. That’s not what I’m trying to do,” she said. “I’m trying to get the votes, period. I think it’s time for the legislature to step up and accept responsibility and take the vote, and not just say, ‘OK, give it over to the people.’ There’s where the big effort lies right now and I’m absolutely working it.”
The governor declined to say whether she would compromise if presented with a bill that included a referendum requirement, calling the question “premature.” However, she expressed confidence that voters would uphold marriage equality in the event of a referendum, citing a University of Washington poll that found support at 55%. The state became the first to affirm same-sex relationship recognition in a public vote when voters approved Referendum 71 in 2009 to maintain an expanded domestic-partnership law. Washington United for Marriage, the coalition of groups working on the bill this year, has accounted for the possibility of a referendum in its strategy.
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