Washington now has enough votes to pass a marriage equality bill in the state Senate, following a state senator's announcement of her support today after hours of public hearings regarding the measure.
Mary Margaret Haugen became the 25th member of the state senate, and the last vote needed to pass the bill, after scores of same-sex marriage supporters told their stories in the state capital for more than two hours.
The bill, first brought up by Washington governor Christine Gregoire, is expected to easily pass in the House but was one vote short of passage in the Senate until Haugen announced her support this afternoon.
Haugen, a Democrat, cited her "very strong Christian beliefs" as part of the reason she supports marriage equality.
"Only one being in this world is omniscient, and it's not me," she said in a statement. "Personally I have always said when I accepted the Lord, I became more tolerant of others. I stopped judging people and try to live by the Golden Rule. This is part of my decision. I do not believe it is my role to judge others, regardless of my personal beliefs."
Openly gay senator Ed Murray, a driving force behind the bill, said he hopes the bill will continue to cross partisan lines and attract the other four remaining members of the senate who have yet to announce their opinion regarding the measure. Of the undecideds, two are Republicans and two are Democrats. And there is a solid group of 20 "no" voters (including two Democrats).
Lacey All, chair for Washington United for Marriage, said the senator's decision was the result of those stories told by LGBT Washingtonians.
"We've known for a long time that our stories are powerful, and sharing those stories can change hearts and minds," All said in a statement cheering the decision. "Hundreds of constituents shared their stories of love, commitment and family with Sen. Haugen, and in doing so convinced her that she was doing the right thing for Washington."
Steve Litzow was the first Republican in the Senate to endorse Gregoire's proposal and has faced threats from antigay groups like the National Organization for Marriage that pledge to campaign against any Republican who supports the bill.
"It's really consistent with the fundamental tenets of individual freedom and personal responsibility," he said in an interview with The Advocate. "It's all about people getting to live the life they want to live without the government getting involved. It's a core principle of the type of Republican I am."
Less than a week later, fellow Republican senator Cheryl Pflug joined Litzow, and Democrat Jim Kastama announced his support last week, putting the Senate within one vote of passing marriage equality. Now Haugen has pledged to deliver that final vote. Washington is poised to become the seventh state in the country, plus the District of Columbia, to allow same-sex marriage.
Despite the critical mass of legislative support reached Monday, NOM president Brian Brown said his organization "was still working" to convince legislators otherwise with an array of tactics, from urging constituents to call their representatives to preparing for a referendum fight on the measure. Last week the group pledged $250,000 to fund primary challenges of GOP lawmakers, as it has done in other states.
"The votes don't count until the votes are counted," Brown told The Advocate. "And I can guarantee you there will be a referendum or initiative on this. The people will have final say, and they will reject same-sex marriage."
Of Haugen's statement on support for marriage equality as an outgrowth of her faith, Brown replied, "She just undermined the religious liberty of folks who believe in marriage as the union between a man and a woman. People can disagree on the issue, but to claim that this is somehow a civil rights issue is patently false."
Litzow in an earlier interview shrugged off NOM's quarter-million-dollar pledge against pro-equality GOP lawmakers.
"I am very comfortable with my position in the Senate, and I'm willing to take on any and all competitors," Litzow said. "The games have started. ... I continue to say if they want to [play them], let's go. Game on."
For several weeks now, I have heard from the people of my district. They've shared what's in their hearts and minds.
I have received many letters, emails, phone calls, very heartfelt, from both sides of the issue. I've also received a number of very negative comments from both sides.
For some people, this is a simple issue. I envy them. It has not been simple or easy for me.
To some degree, this is generational. Years ago I took exception to my parents' beliefs on certain social issues, and today my children take exception to some of mine. Times change, even if it makes us uncomfortable. I think we should all be uncomfortable sometime. None of us knows everything, and it's important to have our beliefs questioned. Only one being in this world is omniscient, and it's not me.
I have very strong Christian beliefs, and personally I have always said when I accepted the Lord, I became more tolerant of others. I stopped judging people and try to live by the Golden Rule. This is part of my decision. I do not believe it is my role to judge others, regardless of my personal beliefs. It's not always easy to do that. For me personally, I have always believed in traditional marriage between a man and a woman. That is what I believe, to this day.
But this issue isn't about just what I believe. It's about respecting others, including people who may believe differently than I. It's about whether everyone has the same opportunities for love and companionship and family and security that I have enjoyed.
For as long as I have been alive, living in my country has been about having the freedom to live according to our own personal and religious beliefs, and having people respect that freedom.
Not everyone will agree with my position. I understand and respect that. I also trust that people will remember that we need to respect each other's beliefs. All of us enjoy the benefits of being Americans, but none of us holds a monopoly on what it means to be an American. Ours is truly a big tent, and while the tent may grow and shrink according to the political winds of the day, it should never shrink when it comes to our rights as individuals.
Do I respect people who feel differently? Do I not feel they should have the right to do as they want? My beliefs dictate who I am and how I live, but I don't see where my believing marriage is between a man and a woman gives me the right to decide that for everyone else.
I've weighed many factors in arriving at this decision, and one of them was erased when the legislation heard today included an amendment to clearly provide for the rights of a church to choose not to marry a couple if that marriage contradicts the church's view of its teachings. That's important, and it helped shape my decision.
My preference would be to put this issue on the ballot and give all Washingtonians the opportunity to wrestle with this issue, to search their hearts as I have, and to make the choice for themselves. But I do not know that there are the votes to put it to a ballot measure. So, forced to make a choice, my choice is to allow all men and women in our state to enjoy the same privileges that are so important in my life. I will vote in favor of marriage equality.
I know this announcement makes me the so-called 25th vote, the vote that ensures passage. That's neither here nor there. If I were the first or the seventh or the 28th vote, my position would not be any different. I happen to be the 25th because I insisted on taking this much time to hear from my constituents and to sort it out for myself, to reconcile my religious beliefs with my beliefs as an American, as a legislator, and as a wife and mother who cannot deny to others the joys and benefits I enjoy.
This is the right vote and it is the vote I will cast when this measure comes to the floor.
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