Monday, November 21, 2005

Washington Governor Sidesteps Marriage Talk

(Link) Although she didn't specifically endorse same-sex marriage, Christine Gregoire did become the first acting governor to address the international Gay and Lesbian Leadership Conference in its 21-year history. "We have not lost," Gregoire said. "We have begun. We will win. It will take time. We are not going to allow discrimination in the state of Washington."

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LNewsEditor said...

JIC Post:
By Chris McGann
Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Gov. Christine Gregoire on Friday became the first acting governor to address the Gay and Lesbian Leadership Conference in its 21-year history but sidestepped the hottest gay rights issue in the state: same-sex marriage.

Gregoire extolled progress made in Washington toward preventing discrimination based on sexual orientation, stopping bullying in public schools and providing parenting rights for gays and lesbians.

About 200 elected officials who are gay or lesbian attended the three-day conference in Seattle.

But even in the gay-friendly heart of the county that almost single-handedly delivered her victory in one of the closest gubernatorial elections in history, Gregoire refused to endorse same-sex marriage.

She noted the much-anticipated state Supreme Court ruling on the issue as important, but she did not reveal her personal opinion on the subject.

Gregoire said she believes in equality for everyone, but she deferred to the courts when asked whether equality was tantamount to marriage rights for gays and lesbians.

"I hope the court rules soon," Gregoire said. "I'll let the courts make the ruling; as a former lawyer, I'm going to respect the court's timeliness, and I'm going to respect the decision that they reach. ... We need to ensure that everyone in the state of Washington is treated with respect and gets equality."

As a candidate, Gregoire avoided the issue on the grounds that revealing her personal views would be inappropriate because she was the attorney general.

Since taking office, Gregoire has continued her silence. She has said that she supports civil unions for same-sex couples, but that it is up to the courts to decide about gay and lesbian marriages.

George Cheung, an Equal Rights Washington board member, said Gregoire's silence on the issue was not particularly significant and that he was "extremely encouraged by her words."

Cheung said the governor's support bodes well for state legislation that would outlaw discrimination against gay people.

This spring, Gregoire helped bring an anti-discrimination bill that had been successfully blocked for three decades to the floor for a full Senate vote. It failed by one vote.

"She provided incredible leadership in this last session, and we look forward to her continued leadership," Cheung said.

On the civil rights bill, Gregoire vowed unequivocal support.

"We still have a need to move forward," Gregoire said. "It's beyond me that we have fought for 30 years for an anti-discrimination bill and have failed. But at least in this last legislative session, as trite as this may seem, we got a vote. The fact that we got a vote and people had to stand up and take a vote was a significant point of progress in this state."

Gregoire said that the new law failed by one vote in the Senate should not be seen as a loss.

"We have not lost," Gregoire said. "We have begun. We will win. It will take time. We are not going to allow discrimination in the state of Washington."

Washington's most prominent openly gay legislator, Rep. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, has pushed for the civil rights legislation since taking office more than a decade ago.

Murray said he views Washington as a state in transition in terms of equal rights for gays and lesbians. He said he is confident Gregoire would eventually take a stand on gay marriage.

"I think she is going to get there," he said.

In his speech, Murray said he is optimistic that the state's high court would "grant the citizens of this state full marriage equality."

He said attendees were visiting Washington at a time when its gay and lesbian community was more excited and more active than at any time in its history. And Murray said Gregoire was a courageous advocate.

"She probably could have played it safe when it came to trying to pass the gay and lesbian civil rights bill, but she didn't," Murray said. "She was willing to use the fullness of her office for our rights. She stood with us as attorney general, and she's stood with us as governor."