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Topics In the News
Washington Governor Chris Gregoire Endorses Marriage Equality
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 01/04/12
Last updated on: 01/05/12
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Governor Chris Gregoire.

On January 4, 2012, Washington Governor Chris Gregoire announced plans to introduce legislation to authorize same-sex marriage in her state. "It's time, it's the right thing to do, and I will introduce a bill to make it happen," Gregoire told a crowd of supporters gathered in her office in Olympia.

The proposal to legalize same-sex marriage will be introduced during the legislative session that starts on January 9. If approved, Washington would become the seventh state to legalize same-sex marriage.

In addition to endorsing marriage equality, the Governor also explained the evolution of her personal views of the issue. In 2004, when she first ran for governor, she endorsed equal rights for gay and lesbian couples, but declared that Washington state was not ready for same-sex marriage. In 2008, when she ran for re-election, she again declined to endorse marriage equality: "To me, the state's responsibility is to absolutely ensure equality. The other is a religious issue, and I leave it to the churches to make that call about marriage."

Now, however, her views have evolved: "I have been on my own journey. I will admit that. It has been a battle for me with my religion," the Catholic governor said, according to the Seattle Times. "I have always been uncomfortable with the position that I have taken publicly. And then I came to realize the religions can decide what they want to do, but it is not ok for the state to discriminate."

Here Governor Gregoire announces her support for marriage equality and rejects a "separate but equal" approach.

The prospects for the passage of the legislation are good but not certain. The Democrats hold majorities in both houses of the legislature, but some conservative Democrats have in the past voted against gay rights.

One of the leaders of the marriage effort, openly gay State Senator Ed Murray, said the legislation being developed would "amend the statutes to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry and to get a marriage license under Washington state law." It would not, he emphasized, require churches to perform marriages for gay and lesbian couples or anyone else.

He added that the supporters of the bill are currently a few votes short, but the Governor expressed confidence that the votes would be found in the upcoming legislative session.

If Governor Gregoire's position on same-sex marriage has evolved, so has the position of the state on gay rights also evolved.

In 2004, after several attempts, Washington state finally passed a law prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing, lending, and insurance.

In 2007, in the aftermath of a bitterly divided Washington state supreme court ruling that gay and lesbian couples had no constitutional right to marriage, the Washington legislature adopted a relatively weak domestic partnership law. It provided hospital visitation rights, the ability to authorize autopsies and organ donations, and inheritance rights when there is no will.

In 2008, the legislature expanded that law to give domestic partners standing under laws covering probate and trusts, community property, and guardianship.

In 2009, the Democratic-controlled legislature expanded the domestic partnership law to confer on same-sex partners all the rights and responsibilities that Washington state offers to married couples. The bill passed the House by a vote of 62-35 and the Senate by a vote of 30-18.

After the passage of the legislation by the Senate on April 15, 2009, Governor Gregoire pledged to sign it as soon as it reached her desk, remarking, "Our state is one that thrives on diversity. We have to respect and protect all of the families that make up our communities."

However, a conservative organization announced that it would begin the process of gathering signatures to qualify a proposal repealing the new domestic partnership law. In September 2009, the Washington Secretary of State certified the signatures, despite irregularities in collecting and submitting them. The law thus was submitted to the voters in November 2009 for approval or rejection.

On November 3, 2009, voters in Washington, by a 53% to 47% margin, approved the domestic partner legislation, making Washington the first state in which gay and lesbian partnerships were affirmed by a popular vote.

It is anticipated that if the legislature passes a bill authorizing same-sex marriage, it too would face a referendum.

Other referenda concerning same-sex marriage and other glbtq issues are likely to be on the ballots in North Carolina and Minnesota, where constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage are pending; in Maine, where voters may be asked to reinstate a marriage equality law that was vetoed in 2009; and in California, where there may be amendments repealing Proposition 8, which bans same-sex marriage, and SB48, which mandates the teaching of glbtq history.

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