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Washington state House committee advances same-sex marriage bill

Washington state House committee advances same-sex marriage bill

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Marriage equality in Washington state moved another step forward as a House panel on Monday approved its version of a bill to legalize same-sex marriage.

The House Judiciary Committee voted along party lines in favor of the bill, with seven Democrats voting for, and six Republicans voting against. The state’s Senate is expected to vote on its companion bill within days.

Three GOP amendments were rejected, including one that would have added private businesses and individuals — such as bakers and photographers — to the measure’s religious exemption, a clause that protects churches, clergy and other religious organizations from penalties for refusing to perform same-sex unions.

State Rep. Jay Rodne (R-Snoqualmie), called the bill “an act of raw political power to modify the definition of marriage,” and said “there has been no compelling justification to abandon traditional marriage.”

Opponents of same sex marriage have already promised a referendum battle at the ballot if the Legislature passes the bill and it’s signed into law.

State Sen. Ed Murray (D-Seattle), who is sponsoring the Senate version of the bill, said Monday that he expects a floor vote on the measure as early as Wednesday; a Senate committee voted on Friday to advance Murray’s bill.

Prior to last week, it wasn’t certain the Senate would have the support to pass the measure, due to a handful of undecided Democrats. But last Monday, after the first public hearing on the issue, a previously undecided Democratic senator, Mary Margaret Haugen, said she would vote in support of the measure, all but ensuring its passage.

Both legislative efforts have the backing of several prominent national businesses, including Microsoft, Nike and Starbucks.

If a marriage bill is passed during this legislative session, gay and lesbian couples will be able to be wed beginning in June, unless opponents follow through on their threat to seek a ballot referendum.

A referendum cannot be filed until after the bill is passed by the Legislature and signed into law by Gregoire — opponents would need 120,577 signatures by June 6.

Washington has had a domestic partnership law since 2007 and an “everything but marriage” expansion of the domestic partnership law since 2009.

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