OLYMPIA, Wash. — The Washington state House of Representatives on Wednesday voted to approve a same-sex marriage bill, putting the state on the cusp of becoming the seventh in the nation to offer full marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples.
In a vote of 55-43, the state House approved the legislation, the last hurdle before the bill goes to Gov. Chris Gregoire for her signature — the Governor, who has five business days to sign it into law, has indicated she will do so.
Gregoire, a Democrat in her final year in office, set the stage for swift passage of the measure when she announced last month that she was backing the legislation, calling it “the right thing to do.”
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House lawmakers debated the bill for more than two hours before calling for the vote.
“Marriage is the word our society uses to describe committed lifelong relationships,” said openly gay lawmaker Rep. Jamie Pedersen (D-Seattle), chair of the House Judiciary Committee, who helped lead efforts to usher the bill through the state Legislature.
“I would like for our four children … to grow up understanding that their daddy and papa have made the kind of lifelong commitment to each other,” Pedersen said. “Marriage is the word we use in our society to convey that idea.”
The bill includes a series of amendments added in the Senate that would ensure protections for religious bodies, churches, and institutions — including affiliated child adoption and fostering agencies — that would protect them from charges of bias or discrimination for refusing to sanctify, solemnise, or otherwise embrace same sex marriage.
The state Senate passed its version of the bill by a vote of 28-21 in a late evening session on Feb 1.
Regardless, opponents of same-sex marriage have already promised to attempt overturn the legislation via one of two ballot measures — a referendum for repeal, or an initiative to define marriage as exclusively between one man and one woman.
A referendum to repeal the marriage equality bill would need 120,577 signatures of registered voters by June 6 to secure a place on the November ballot — the latter would require 241,153 signatures gathered by July 6 to secure a position on the ballot.
Washington state first enacted its domestic partnership registry in 2007.
Since then, the rights of same-sex couples in Washington state have 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, however, do not receive federal rights and benefits in any state where gay marriage is legal due to the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).