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Efforts to legalize same-sex marriage (SSM) in Washington State:

2012-FEB-01: Senate passes marriage equality bill.

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This topic is a continuation from the previous essay ....

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2012-JAN-31: Vote scheduled in state Senate:

The Senate Rules Committee voted on JAN-31 to advance the SSM bill for a vote by the full senate on FEB-01 -- probably in the late evening. The committee's vote was 14 to 7. Senator Cheryl Pflug (R) along with all 13 Democrats voted in favor; 7 of the 8 Republicans on the Committee voted to bury the bill.

Lt. Governor Brad Owen (D), president of the Senate, commented that he has promoted tolerance and diversity in education for years, and that this would make it:

"... hypocritical for me to not support this bill. ... For me, this is not a religious question, It's a legal question." 1

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2012-FEB-02: Senate passes SSM bill:

On the evening of FEB-01, the full Senate debated the bill for almost 90 minutes before passing it. Almost a dozen amendments were introduced including several that would strengthen legal protections for religious groups and organizations who wished to continue to discriminate against same-sex couples. One rejected amendment would have exempted wedding photographers, cake decorators, and other business owners selling services to marrying couples from obeying state anti-discrimination laws. Another amendment that was rejected would have required a vote of the public in a referendum before the law would become effective.

Twenty-five positive votes were needed; 27 votes were predicted. The final vote was 28 to 21. Four Republicans voted for the bill. Three Democrats voted against it. The bill's sponsor, Senator Ed Murray (D) said that SSM:

"... is as contentious as any issue that this body has considered in its history. ... [Those who voted against the bill] are not, nor should they be accused of bigotry. ... Those of us who support this legislation are not, and we should not be accused of, undermining family life or religious freedom. Marriage is how society says you are a family." 2

One might criticize this statement:

  • When the first re-definition of marriage occurred in the 19th century and African Americans were allowed to marry anywhere in the U.S., there probably was considerable opposition which would today be regarded as racism, a form of bigotry.

  • When the second redefinition of marriage occurred in 1967 and interracial couples were allowed to marry anywhere In the U.S. there was considerable opposition which today would be regarded as racism, a form of bigotry.

  • Whether SSM undermines opposite-sex marriage is still an open question. Massachusetts authorized same-sex marriage in 2004-MAY, and has retained its leadership as the state with the lowest divorce rate. Canada legalized SSM in 2005-JUL and the culture seems to have taken it in its stride; a strong and growing majority of adults there still support SSM. Marriage has been devalued over recent decades by the antics of some movie and TV stars whose marriages have lasted a matter of hours or a handful of weeks. Some wag suggested that the duration of marriages should now be recorded in a new unit of measure: the Kardashian. Each Kardashian is a duration of 72 days, the length of Kim Kardashian's marriage to Kris Humphries in 2011. (The author of this essay has been happily married 110 Kardashians and counting). Marriage has been further devalued by TV shows like the Bachelor and Bachelorette where two people make a lifetime commitment to marriage after having been in each other's company for a matter of tens of hours plus an overnight experience in the "fantasy suite." Marriage is in decline throughout the West but the decline started long before same-sex marriages became available and does not seem to have been accelerated by the presence of these marriages.

  • In its current form, the bill would not infringe on the religious freedom of religious organizations, faith-based social agencies, mission organizations, etc. Clauses allow them to continue to discriminate against same-sex couples in solemnizing marriages, in renting church halls, and delivering other services. 3 However it would restrict the religious freedom of wedding photography services, wedding cake manufacturers, stores selling wedding dresses, etc. It would not impact on the religious beliefs of the owners and employees of such companies -- which is the original meaning of the term "religious freedom." However, it would reduce their religious freedom to denigrate and oppress sexual minorities and others, which is the new and growing meaning of the term "religious freedom."

Senator Dan Swecker (R) said that the bill, if it becomes law, would redefine marriage and:

"... will lead to the silencing of those who believe in traditional marriage. ... It's ironic how a bill which purports to be about ending discrimination leaves the door open so far for discrimination going in the other direction. I'm extremely concerned that without additional protections, this legislation will create a hostile environment for those of us who believe in traditional marriage." 2 [Emphasis ours]

A literal interpretation of the phrase "believe in traditional marriage" means that an individual supports the right of one man and one woman to marry. Since we have never observed in our media monitoring -- both in Washington State and the rest of the U.S. -- anyone who is opposed to the marriage of such couples, his statement sounds nonsensical. However, few people interpret his message literally. Believing in "traditional marriage" is actually a code phrase used by religious and social conservatives to mean anyone who is opposed to same-sex marriage. In the same way, the National Organization for Marriage is in reality a national organization against same-sex marriage.

Swecker is right. People who oppose the right of a same-sex couple to marry will probably be silenced in the future. In a country like the U.S. with so many guarantees of freedom of speech this will not be caused by a suppression of free speech by legal means. Rather, it will be self-censorship. Over time, it is likely that persons, organizations and religious denominations that are opposed to SSM will be considered bigots by a substantial and growing percentage of Americans, just as a large and growing percentage of Americans today regard those who oppose interracial marriage as racial bigots.

Senator Swecker's negativity towards SSM is probably not shared by most adults in Washington state. A Quinnipac poll in New Jersey showed that 65% of voters in that state believe that SSM is not a threat to "traditional marriage." 32% believe that it is a threat. Since Washington and New Jersey are both fairly liberal states, we expect that Washington voters would agree with about the same 2:1 ratio. 2

Senator Steve Litzow (R) said he was voting for the bill:

"... because I believe it's the right thing to do. I believe an adult should have the right to marry the person they love. It's that simple for me."

Senator Jim Hargrove (D) said he was voting against the bill, saying:

"I have to do what I believe is right. And for me, right is voting against this bill."

Alex Guesner, 26, an engineer, was in the Senate gallery as an observer with his boyfriend. He said:

I'm really excited to have Washington pass this. I'm excited for my state."

Gay marriage opponent Jane Sterland, 56, who opposes marriage equality, said:

"It saddens me that there aren't more Christians here tonight. I'm just very grieved about this whole thing. I want to be here for prayer support against this issue."

CNN showed a short clip of the Senate chambers immediately after the vote was taken.

Picture of senate gallery when vote completed

Judging by the enthusiastic response from the visitors' gallery, essentially all of those present were very much in favor of the legalization of SSM.

Passage in the House is expected with a significant margin perhaps by FEB-10. The governor enthusiastically supports the bill and is expected to sign the bill into law.

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This topic continues in the next essay ....

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References used in this essay:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Rachel LaCorte, "Key Washington state gay marriage vote Wednesday," Associated Press, 2012-JAN-31, at: http://www.seattlepi.com/
  2. "Washington state senate approves gay marriage," Associated Press, 2012-FEB-02, at: http://www.cbsnews.com/
  3. Matthew Cortina, Pro-Family Groups Vow to Fight Wash. Gay Marriage Bill, 'Punish' Lawmakers," Christian Post, 2012-FEB-04, at: http://m.global.christianpost.com/

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Copyright © 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Original posting: 2012-JAN-23
Latest update: 2012-FEB-07
Author: B.A. Robinson

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