OLYMPIA, Wash. — Washington state may soon become the seventh U.S. state to legalize gay marriage.
A same-sex marriage bill is expected to be introduced in the state legislature by the end of the week, and according to a tally by the Associated Press, more Washington lawmakers are firmly supporting gay marriage than opposing it, currently by a margin of 22-18 of the state’s Senators.
The measure needs 25 votes to pass the Senate. The House is widely expected to have enough support, and Gov. Chris Gregoire publicly endorsed gay marriage for the first time last week.
Four Democrats say they are considering whether to support it, including one who is leaning in favor. A pair of Republicans is among those supporting the proposal, and two first-term GOP members said they are still discussing the issue with constituents.
Democratic Sen. Ed Murray, a gay lawmaker from Seattle who has for years led efforts to approve same-sex marriage, said that he’s “50 percent optimistic” it will pass. He noted that he saw a gay civil rights measure he spearheaded lose by one vote in 2005 before it passed by a single vote the following year.Associated Press, via The Seattle Times
Gay-marriage proponents think the necessary votes exist for passage in the state House; but the math is more complicated in the Senate.
GOP support is critical to passage in the Senate, and two Republican senators — Steve Litzow of Mercer Island and Cheryl Pflug of Maple Valley — said they are now supporting gay marriage, calling it a a matter of equality. Two first-term Republicans representing suburban districts — Sens. Joe Fain of Auburn and Andy Hill of Redmond — also left open the possibility of supporting the bill.
The increased support of same-sex marriage mirrors shifts in public opinion on the issue, and comes 15 years after Washington lawmakers overrode a governor’s veto to pass a law defining marriage as between one man and one woman.
Since then, Washington state has expanded rights for gays and lesbians — the state’s initial domestic partnership law passed in 2007 and the final expansion of that law, the 2009 so-called “everything but marriage” law, was later upheld by voters.
Buoyed by the recent support from the Governor, Democratic supporters indicate a sense of urgency to get gay marriage through the legislature this year, in case Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna wins in November.
McKenna has said he is opposed to same-sex marriage.
Currently, same-sex marriage is legal in six states — Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, and Vermont — and the District of Columbia.
Nine states — California, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Washington — provide same-sex couples with access to the state level benefits and responsibilities of marriage, through either civil unions or domestic partnerships.