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Valley legislators split on same-sex marriage law

Same-sex couples may marry when new Washington law takes effect June 7By Carol LadwigStaff Reporter

Effective June 7 of this year, same-sex couples in Washington will have the one thing that's eluded them since 1996 and beyond, marriage.

Washington Senators approved ESSB 6239, legalizing marriage for gay couples, on Feb. 1, by a vote of 28 to 21. The House voted one week later, Feb. 8, passing it by a vote of 55 to 43, and Governor Gregoire signed the bill into law at a news conference Monday morning, Feb. 13.

Neither vote was easy. Legislators on both sides of the issue made impassioned speeches about the sanctity of marriage, and about basic human rights.

"This is one of the most important issues that the legislature will consider," said Representative Jay Rodne (R-North Bend), the only District 5 legislator to oppose the bill. Because of that, Rodne said the decision needed to be made by the people. He proposed an amendment to the bill that would have put the issue on the November ballot, but it failed.

Fellow Republicans, Representative Glenn Anderson of Fall City and Senator Cheryl Pflug of Maple Valley both supported the bill, and Pflug was applauded for being the sole Republican voting to move the bill out of committee and onto the floor for a vote.

Pflug referred to the founding fathers and their flight from oppression in her support of the bill, whom she thought were probably very conscious of tolerance when they drafted the Bill of Rights.

"I commend this bill to you today, because it is part of our struggle to recognize that everybody, whether they look like us, or believe like us... should have an opportunity to enjoy those personal freedoms we hold dear," she concluded.

Anderson's support of the bill, he said, was based on analysis of the historical basis of marriage on a civil level, religious doctrine surrounding marriage, and the country's anti-discrimination laws.

Citing physiological research, Anderson said evidence suggests "…that homosexuality is a normal, if much less frequent, genetic expression of human biology. If race is a genetically acceptable criterion for constitutional equal protection under the law in the 14th Amendment, then genetic sexual orientation is closely related as a fundamental expression of human biology."

Anderson said he approached the issue in this way to avoid the "demonizing" claims of the law's supporters, and the "dehumanizing" claims of its detractors.

Among those demonized for arguing from a religious perspective, Rodne said he was guided in his opposing vote by his Catholic faith. He argued that the law did not give anyone more than they already had, legally, in the state.

"As it stands today, there is co-equal treatment between marriages and domestic partnerships," he said. During testimony, "not one person could articulate how they were discriminated against… in our current domestic partnership laws."

One aspect of marriage, he said, is procreation, and in some adoption cases, the law could "sever the relationship of a child with one of that child's biological parents."

"That is antithetical to everything that marriage stands for," he said. "If this body is OK with that, they're confused and misguided and I don't know if I want to be here."

The law will give gay couples the right to marry, and to be legally treated as married couples in Washington. It builds on the domestic partnership law passed in 2007, which conferred many of the rights of married couples on same-sex couples who formally registered their relationship. More than 5,000 couples in Washington are currently in registered domestic partnerships.

Should these couples decide to marry, their rights will apply in six other states, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire, but not nationwide. California currently has a gay-marriage ban, but the state Supreme Court will soon review the constitutional validity of the ban. The 1996 Defense of Marriage Act prohibiting federal agencies from recognizing same-sex unions is still on the books, although President Barack Obama has repeatedly called for its repeal, and Senator Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) and Congressman Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.) have proposed the Respect for Marriage Act, which would repeal DOMA and recognize same-sex unions at the federal level, without requiring individual states to do so.

Opponents of the law have announced plans to petition for a repeal measure on the November ballot.

 

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