Gay rights bill passes Washington State house

By Advocate.com Editors

Originally published on Advocate.com March 19 2003 1:00 AM ET

The Washington State house of representatives has passed a gay civil rights bill that bans discrimination in housing, employment, and financial transactions. The bill, which defines sexual orientation as "heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality, and gender expression or identity," sailed through the Democratic-controlled house, 59-39, on Monday, but it faces a big hurdle in the Republican-controlled senate. Still, openly gay state representative Ed Murray said he's cautiously optimistic that Washington will become the 14th state with a nondiscrimination law that includes gays and lesbians. Similar legislation has passed the house twice before, most recently in 1994, but died in the senate. Murray and openly gay state representative Joe McDermott were the bill's primary sponsors.

"This is my best day in the legislature," said Murray, 47, a nine-year veteran who chairs the powerful house transportation committee. His partner, Michael Shiosaki, attended the debate.

"This is one of the biggest votes I've ever taken and the one that made me the proudest," McDermott said in an interview. "The signs in the shop windows used to say, 'Irish need not apply.' I was thinking about that the other day when I was signing papers to buy a house with my boyfriend--and thinking that they could just reject the whole thing after seeing two gay men sign the papers."

Representatives Jim Moeller and Dave Upthegrove are the house's other openly gay members. The four failed to gain even committee approval of a proposal to authorize same-sex civil unions this session, but they had better luck with the civil rights measure, which is endorsed by Gov. Gary Locke and many religious and civic leaders.

Murray framed the legislation in historical civil rights terms. He said he is the descendant of Irish immigrants in Grays Harbor County and that Shiosaki's Japanese ancestors helped build the railroads. Immigrants withstood hardship and discrimination but stayed in America "because of the possibility of
equality and fairness," he said. "Some of our citizens, whether because of the color of their skin or their religious beliefs or because they were women, were not treated fairly. Our century just past is a century filled with tragedy because of a lack of understanding of differences. In this early part of our new century, we have an opportunity to take a small step to write a new future."