The Washington state Senate approved 28-21 Wednesday a same-sex marriage bill, handing advocates their biggest victory of the 2012 legislative session and all but ensure legalized gay marriage in the Evergreen State.
"A lot of people are just stunned, particularly people in my age group and older,” said state Sen. Ed Murray, who spoke before the vote at a news conference attended by his partner, Michael Shiosaki. “I don’t think we actually believed this day would come in our lifetimes. I certainly didn’t believe that when these battles started in the ’90s.”
The Senate began debating the bill at 6 p.m. PST Wednesday. The Senate Rules Committee advanced the bill on a 14-7 vote Tuesday, with six of the seven Republicans on the committee voting no.
The Washington vote comes as several states consider same-sex marriage proposals. The Maryland and New Jersey legislatures are also debating it this year, although neither state has a clear path to passage.
In New Jersey, Republican Gov. Chris Christie recently said he would veto such a bill. In Maryland, Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley has led the fight for same-sex marriage, but the state House rejected last year's bill, and no legislator has announced a change of position.
In Maine, proponents have collected 105,000 signatures to place a marriage-equality measure on the ballot after voters repealed the state's same-sex marriage law in 2009. A federal court ruled Wednesday that the National Organization for Marriage must disclose the names of donors who gave more than $100 to the 2009 campaign, despite objections from NOM officials who fear that their contributors will face harassment.
Washington became the state most likely to embrace same-sex marriage this year when Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire announced Jan. 4 that she would sign such a bill. If passed by the Senate, the legislation would move to the state House, which has more than enough votes to pass it.
Washington United for Marriage, which has lobbied for the same-sex marriage bill, urged its supporters to "pack the Senate for marriage equality" by attending Wednesday night's Senate debate.
Democratic state Sen. Ed Murray, the bill's sponsor, cautioned supporters Wednesday that the bill was not a done deal.
"Nothing is done until it is actually voted on," Mr. Murray said.
Opponents of same-sex marriage are preparing a referendum battle if the bill is approved. They would need to gather 121,000 signatures within 90 days of the end of the legislative session in March.
The National Organization for Marriage released a poll Jan. 26 showing that 57 percent of Washington voters surveyed oppose redefining marriage when reminded that the state already has a civil-unions law.
The poll showed that 72 percent of voters think that the state Legislature should work on other issues, while 71 percent think the voters should decide the marriage issue. Just 9 percent said that the Legislature should decide on whether same-sex couples should be able to marry.
"Gov. Gregoire is leading legislators off a political cliff with her focus on redefining marriage in Washington," said NOM President Brian Brown in a statement. "Having approved civil unions, voters do not support redefining marriage and clearly do not want legislators doing so."
KING-TV in Seattle reported that a group of local pastors met Tuesday to discuss plans for overturning the bill.
"We asked the Legislature to be more concerned about religious freedom and the implications of this, and they've shown a little bit of interest in this, but it doesn't seem to be nearly enough," said Pastor Joe Fuiten of Cedar Park Church in Bothell, Wash.
Washington state approved a domestic-partnership law in 2007, and voters expanded it to include "everything but marriage" in 2009. Same-sex marriage bills were introduced in both the House and the Senate this year, and received their first public hearings in January.
"As the bill continues to progress in both chambers in Olympia, it is clear that momentum is on our side," said Lacey All, chairman of Washington United for Marriage, in a statement.
Six states — Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont — and the District of Columbia have legalized same-sex marriage. Thirty-one states have passed the Defense of Marriage Act, and voters have never approved a ballot measure sanctioning gay marriage.
• This article was based in part on wire service reports.
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