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Washington House Approves Gay-Marriage Bill; Governor’s Signature Awaits

A gay couple gets married in Washington, DC. Across the country, Washington State is one step closer to legalizing gay marriage. (Photo: M.V. Jantzen / Flickr)

Washington is one step closer to legalizing gay marriage, and also to a citizen referendum against it, after the state House approved a same-sex marriage proposal Wednesday.

The bill passed 55 to 43, which was proportionally similar to the Senate’s 28-21 vote last week.

Gov. Chris Gregoire now has five working days to sign the measure into law and is expected to do so early next week. She announced her support for same-sex marriage last month.

Once the governor signs, opponents can begin the process of collecting signatures to put the issue to voters. They’ll need at least 120,577 valid signatures by June 6 to put it on the fall ballot.

Various amendments to the bill that would have sent it back to the Senate were struck down by the House. Many of the changes were proposed by Rep. Jay Rodne, R-North Bend, who ultimately voted against the measure.

“This bill is really an exercise of raw political power,” Rodne said on the House floor. “It’s an exercise of power that contravenes human nature and will hurt families and children. … This is not a matter of equality.”

One of his amendments would have put the proposal directly to a referendum. The failure of that provision was a deal breaker for Rep. Steve Kirby, D-Tacoma, who also voted against the bill.

Kirby was one of three Democrats to vote no; the others were Chris Hurst of Enumclaw and Mark Miloscia of Federal Way.

Breaking political ranks on the other side were Republicans Glenn Anderson of Fall City and Maureen Walsh of Walla Walla, who voted yes.

“A lot of the feedback I got from people in my district was if you’re going to vote for it, it should have a referendum on it,” Kirby said in an interview afterward. “We send a lot of things to a vote of the public; certainly if a gas tax is important enough to hold a public vote, then so is this.”

Kirby said he was happy for supporters of the bill and would have voted for it had the referendum provision been included.

“It’s not really a controversial assertion that this is going to be on our November ballot, and why we force people to jump through a bunch of hoops to get there, I don’t understand,” he said.

Opponents will begin that process as soon as the governor signs, said Joseph Backholm, executive director of the Family Policy Institute of Washington, which is helping to organize the campaign. He expects it will be two to three weeks before preparations are made to start collecting signatures.

If same-sex marriage opponents are successful at making the ballot, all gay marriages would be postponed at least until the results of the Nov. 6 election are certified, which would be Dec. 6. Otherwise, the law would take effect when the signature check is complete and the number of valid signatures deemed insufficient.

A simple majority vote for the referendum would uphold the law signed by the governor, while a majority vote against it would overturn it.

Wednesday’s vote comes a day after California’s Proposition 8 was found unconstitutional by a panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The ruling applies specifically to California, but pro-gay-rights group Washington United for Marriage called it “a victory nonetheless” in a statement Tuesday, saying it would give more momentum to marriage equality efforts in Washington.

Openly gay Rep. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, mentioned the decision in Wednesday’s floor debate.

“The court addressed the question of why marriage matters, directly,” Pedersen said on the floor. “Our children deserve to grow up in a state that treats their family with equal dignity.”

Rep. Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, told other lawmakers that the bill would strengthen families. On Monday, she celebrated her 23rd anniversary with her partner, Laura Wulf, who attended Wednesday’s floor action with their 11-year-old son, Wulf.

Jinkins said Washington’s “everything but marriage” bill, Referendum 71, passed by a wider margin than expected in 2009 and that she has “high hopes that we’ve got a good shot” with the same-sex marriage proposal.

© 2012 McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

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