OLYMPIA, Wash. — In an announcement before an audience of activists and supporters of marriage equality, Washington Governor Chris Gregoire (D), on Wednesday announced she will introduce historic legislation that if passed, would allow same-sex marriages in Washington state.
The announcement represents a change for Gregoire — while she has supported gay and lesbian partners having the the same rights that married couples have, until today Gregoire has never specifically endorsed same-sex marriage publicly.
In fact, while running for governor in 2004, she said, “I do not believe that Washington state is ready to support gay marriage.”
“It’s time, it’s the right thing to do, and I will introduce a bill to do it,” Gregoire said.
“I say that as a wife, a mother, a student of the law, and above all as a Washingtonian with a lifelong commitment to equality and freedom. Some say domestic partnerships are the same as marriage. That’s a version of the discriminatory ‘separate but equal’ argument.”
“Our gay and lesbian families face the same hurdles as heterosexual families—making ends meet, choosing what school to send their kids to, finding someone to grow old with, standing in front of friends and family and making a lifetime commitment,” Gregoire said.
“For all couples, a state marriage license is very important. It gives them the right to enter into a marriage contract in which their legal interests, and those of their children if any, are protected by well-established civil law.”
“Throughout our history, we have fought discrimination,” Gregoire said. “We have joined together to recognize equality for racial minorities, women, people with disabilities, immigrants. Please join today to support equality again in our great state. It is the right thing to do and it is time.”
The proposal will be introduced during the legislative session that starts Monday.
Gregoire’s announcement today follows years of advocating for equal rights for gays and lesbians.
In 2006, she signed legislation banning discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing and other areas. In 2007, Substitute Senate Bill 5336 created the state’s domestic partnership registry.
A year later, Gregoire signed House Bill 3104 which added additional rights and responsibilities relating to issues such as dissolutions, community property, estate planning, taxes, court process, conflicts of interest for public officials and guardianships.
The rights of same-sex couples in Washington state have since been expanded in a series of subsequent laws, culminating in 2009’s “everything but marriage law,” which was upheld by a public vote on Referendum 71 that fall.
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.
Same-sex couples do not receive federal rights and benefits in any state due to the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).