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Washington governor: marriage, no; civil unions, yes

Washington governor: marriage, no; civil unions, yes

Washington State governor Gary Locke says he opposes same-sex marriage but favors civil unions that would give gay couples many of the same rights and responsibilities. The Democratic governor said Wednesday he also opposes the constitutional amendment option backed by President Bush to enshrine a same-sex marriage ban in the U.S. Constitution. "I don't think we should change our federal Constitution willy-nilly," the governor said. As scores of gay couples tied the knot in Portland, Oregon's largest city, Oregon governor Ted Kulongoski cautioned that the new county policy allowing same-sex marriages may be illegal. He stressed that Oregon's marriage statute, passed in 1863, needs to be read within its historical context. In Washington State, lawmakers in 1998 passed a "defense of marriage" act to make Washington one of 39 states defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman. Locke vetoed the law, but lawmakers overrode the veto. "The law in the state of Washington, through various court decisions going back several decades, makes it very clear that between a man and a woman, and that was affirmed by an act of the legislature several years ago," Locke said Wednesday. "I do not support same-sex marriages, but I do believe we should provide an opportunity or a legal mechanism by which gay and lesbian couples can get virtually the same legal rights as those who are married.... Those loving couples deserve to have those same privileges and responsibilities. I support a way in which we can confer legal status, legal privileges that married couples have, but the law in the state of Washington does not allow marriage between anyone but a man and a woman." Rep. Ed Murray (D-Seattle), one of four openly gay men in the state house, said developments around the country are forcing Washington's gay community to step up a schedule for activism on the marriage question. Washington residents are rather tolerant and likely wouldn't support a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, Murray said. Asked directly if he could imagine Washington State lawmakers ever ratifying an amendment such as Bush suggests, if one were to pass Congress, he said, "All it takes to ratify an amendment to the U.S. Constitution is a simple majority of both houses. That worries me." Elaine Kraft, a spokeswoman for King County executive Ron Sims, said Washington's most populous county, which includes Seattle, wouldn't be following Oregon's lead because Washington law is more specific than Oregon law, and Sims will uphold it. "That's what he'll do, even though he disagrees," Kraft said. "He supports marriage between two loving, committed adults, period."

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