Monday, March 20, 2006

Same-Sex Marriage Ruling Expected Soon in Washington

(Link) With anti-discrimation laws recently passed after a 30-year struggle, Washington state may approve same-sex marriage sooner than most states. "We as a culture in Washington state are moving ahead in our understanding of who lesbian and gay people are," says State Rep. Ed Murray. "Some of the myths have faded away."

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LNewsEditor said...

JIC Post:
The Oregonian

OLYMPIA -- State Rep. Ed Murray expects a much quicker resolution to the debate about same-sex marriage in Washington than the 30 years it took for lawmakers to approve civil rights protections for gay people.

"It will take time, but not decades," said the Seattle Democrat, an openly gay lawmaker who has been a longtime champion for gay rights. "We as a culture in Washington state are moving ahead in our understanding of who lesbian and gay people are. Some of the myths have faded away."

The state Supreme Court is expected to release a decision any day on Washington's Defense of Marriage Act passed by the Legislature in 1998. The law says marriage must be between a man and a woman.

Two Superior Court judges have found the law unconstitutional. Now, the state's highest court will decide whether Washington will become the second state to start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Massachusetts became the first state in 2004.

If the court sends the issue back to lawmakers to decide, Murray said he'll introduce legislation next year that would allow same-sex marriage. If the court permits the law to stand, Murray said he would introduce legislation to offer same-sex couples the same rights that marriage guarantees other couples.

This all comes as supporters of equal rights for gays won a dramatic victory in the Legislature this session that hinged on a Republican lawmaker who changed his vote from the year before.

Sen. Bill Finkbeiner of Kirkland turned the tide in favor of adding sexual orientation to the state's anti-discrimination law, which includes race, sex, religion, martial status, disability and other categories.

The civil rights bill originally surfaced in 1977 in the Legislature, but had failed every year since. Murray introduced the bill 11 times before the final success. Gov. Chris Gregoire signed the legislation immediately, and it's scheduled to go into effect in June unless opponents succeed in putting a challenge before voters in November.

Tim Eyman, a conservative activist who has filed previous initiatives, is leading a drive to collect signatures for two measures to overturn the new law.

He contends the law gives preferential treatment to a distinct minority in violation of a state ban on affirmative action that he successfully put to voters in 1998.
His referendum would allow voters to approve or reject the civil rights law. His initiative would bar similar legislation in the future, making it illegal for "the government to ever require any private entity to give preferential treatment to anyone based on sexual orientation," he said.

The Christian Coalition of Washington supports Eyman's measures and has thousands of petitions to distribute to its members, said Rick Forcier, the group's executive director in Washington.

Eyman needs 112,440 valid signatures by June 7 for the referendum and 225,000 signatures for the initiative by July 7 to put them on the November ballot. If he gets enough, the law wouldn't go into effect pending the vote.
Murray said he's disappointed with what he calls Eyman's attempt to "confuse the issue saying it allows affirmative action and quotas, when the legislation prohibits their use."

"We fought for this for 30 years and we will fight Tim Eyman for 30 more years if we have to," Murray said.

Gay rights groups are mobilizing against Eyman's effort. Equal Rights Washington, the Pride Foundation and other groups from around the state have formed Washington Won't Discriminate.

"Anytime civil rights are put up to a public vote it's not a good thing, anytime the majority makes a decision for a minority it's just not good," said Fran Dunaway, executive director of Equal Rights Washington.

"I think the vast majority of people in Washington state don't want to see their neighbors and friends discriminated against just because of who they are," she said.