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BREAKING NEWS: Washington state Senate OKs marriage equality; bill goes to House

OLYMPIA, Wash. – The state Senate voted 28-21 Wednesday night to legalize same-sex marriage.

Next up, the House is expected to approve the bill, and Gov. Chris Gregoire has vowed that she will sign it into law.

The governor, who proposed the marriage equality bill, is so passionate about getting it passed that she stood on the floor of the Senate anxiously watching the debate and the votes.

It took a bipartisan effort to pass the bill in the Senate. Four Republicans joined 23 Democrats in approving the measure.

Before the debate began, the Senate president, Lt. Gov. Brad Owen, advised the packed gallery to observe decorum and refrain from reacting to the debate. The gallery had filled up more than an hour before the 6 pm PT start, and had to wait even longer as the Senate went into caucus immediately to discuss proposed amendments that would sink or water down the bill.

When the senators returned to the floor, they began voting on the amendments. For example:

• Amendment 15, which would have allowed religious organizations to discriminate against same-sex marriage, was voted down.

• Amendment 14, which would have allowed businesses to deny goods and services to LGBT couples, was voted down.

• Amendment 17, which would have exempted faith-based child placement services from recognizing gay marriages, was voted down.

• Amendment 10, which would have put gay marriage to a public vote, was voted down.

When debate finally returned on the main bill, the arguments fell along familiar fault lines. Opponents of marriage equality stirred up the boogey man imagery, while supporters talked about how the term marriage is the way that society validates couples as a family.
An emotional Sen. Debbie Regala talked about how she is in an interracial marriage, and how that once was illegal, saying that marriage equality was a deeply personal issue for her and her husband.

Sen. Kevin Ranker shared his story of being the son of a gay father, and how society was often judgmental about their family unit and the pain that it caused. "I am proud to stand on the right side of history and to vote for marriage equality, and I am proud to stand for my father," he said, all choked up.

One of the Republican who supports gay marriage, Sen. Cheryl Pflug, explained her “yes” vote.

Washington state has had a domestic partnership law since 2007, which was expanded to include just about every legal right except marriage in 2009. A referendum to overturn the domestic partnership law was defeated in 2009.

Anti-gay groups have already declared that they will attempt to qualify a referendum to overturn gay marriage in Washington, should the state become the seventh to legalize marriage equality. Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont allow same-sex marriage, along with the District of Columbia.

Maryland and New Jersey legislatures are also considering the issue this winter. Marriage equality supporters in California are trying to get an initiative on the November ballot.

Early reaction

“We thank Majority Leader Brown, Sen. Murray and the bipartisan coalition of senators who stood with us today in the name of equality,” said Lacey All, chair of Washington United for Marriage. “The overwhelming support we’re seeing from businesses, labor, faith communities and people all across the state is a testament to the momentum of this movement and sensibilities of Washingtonians. Volunteers from every part of the state have contributed thousands of hours of their time to make today possible, and we thank them for their commitment to this issue.”

“As small business owners who pride ourselves on contributing to our community, we are so grateful that today has arrived, and especially for the support of our senator, Mary Margaret Haugen,” said Larry Lowary and Gerry Betz, longtime residents of Washington who live on Whidbey Island. “We’ve been together for 23 years and entered into our domestic partnership five years ago. Now we’re looking to the day when we’ll be able to look into each other’s eyes, exchange our vows and finally say ‘I Do’ just like anybody else.”

“The action of the senate today means so much to us, and we thank all the senators who supported this legislation” said Tara Wolfe and A.J. Stolfus, longtime partners from Olympia. “We moved to Washington years ago in part because of the open and welcoming nature of the people here – something we didn’t always see in Kansas. We’re simply overjoyed that our friends, family and neighbors can soon recognize us as spouses and our family as being whole.”

"Same-sex couples in Washington are now one step closer to enjoying the freedom to marry, thanks to the impressive efforts of Washington United for Marriage, and the bravery of supporters of equality in the State Senate. We expect this bill to pass quickly through the Washington House of Representatives, and Gov. Gregoire has already indicated she will sign it, bringing the equal right to marry closer to reality for all residents of Washington," said Camilla Taylor, Lambda Legal National Marriage Project director.