All Rights reserved
Supporters of gay rights have tried and failed for nearly 30 years to get a law in Washington State banning discrimination against gays and lesbians. After a Tuesday hearing, they said they believe they're closer to success than ever before. "This is not about quotas. This is not about affirmative action," said Rep. Ed Murray (D-Seattle), who is gay and is sponsoring the bill for the 10th year in a row. "It is about citizens in this state who work hard and pay taxes--but happen to be gay and lesbian--asking to be treated fairly. We are no better and no worse than other Washingtonians, and we ask to be treated no better and no worse than other Washingtonians." House Bill 1515 would ban discrimination against gays and lesbians in employment, housing, and insurance. The Washington house passed the bill last year, but the senate had a minor meltdown over it, with senate Republican leadership adjourning early to kill the measure. This year the house, senate, and governor's office are all controlled by Democrats. The bill will likely pass in the house; senate leaders are hopeful it will pass but aren't making any promises. "I think this is the best chance the bill has ever had," said Murray. "But it's still going to be a struggle." Fifteen other states have similar laws, including Illinois, which joined the list in January. Murray's bill doesn't cover marriage. That subject will arrive in Olympia in March, when the state supreme court is scheduled to hear a gay marriage case. Two lower courts have ruled that denying gays and lesbians the right to marry is unconstitutional. Gay rights supporters in Washington hope to avoid the backlash that propelled voters in 13 states, including Oregon, to pass initiatives banning same-sex marriage last year. The Christian Coalition and Washington Evangelicals for Responsible Government opposed the bill at the Tuesday hearing of the house's state government committee. Other speakers urged lawmakers to pass the measure for practical, political, and personal reasons. "Nondiscrimination is good for business," said Jamie Pedersen, an attorney who oversees hiring at Preston, Gates, and Ellis, a Washington law office. Pedersen said the firm's nondiscrimination policy helps recruit and retain lawyers, attracts clients, and creates a more productive workplace. Dave Kaplan with the Log Cabin Republicans of Washington told lawmakers that despite his achievements in his job, he could be fired at any moment for being gay. "As Republicans, we believe people should be judged on their abilities," Kaplan said. "Their ability to do a job, their ability to pay rent, pay a mortgage." Rabbi James Mirel evoked memories of the Holocaust and the recent commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. "That terrible, historical injustice began with discrimination in the areas of education and employment," said Mirel, rabbi at Temple B'Nai Torah in Bellevue and president of the Washington Coalition of Rabbis. "Discrimination is never benign.... The consequences can be dire." Other religious leaders spoke against the bill. "The very definition of sexual orientation [in the bill] assumes an underlying concept that all sexual behavior is equally valued," said Rick Forcier, state director of the Christian Coalition. "It places sex outside morality." Ken Hutcherson, pastor of Antioch Bible Church in Redmond, said as a black man he was "really upset and really appalled" that sexual orientation might be added to an antidiscrimination law, because he does not believe gays and lesbians have suffered prejudice as black Americans have. Marsha Botzer of Seattle, a lesbian and expert in transgender issues, said she has experienced real discrimination. She bristled as she listened to Forcier describe homosexuality as "disordered." "It is not about a particular morality," Botzer said. "This is about justice and this is about fairness.... The time is now."