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Gay Marriage Looms As Major Issue In Washington

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Gay marriage is poised to become a major issue of debate in Washington in 2012. Governor Chris Gregoire said Wednesday she will personally introduce same-sex marriage legislation this year. Conservative activists responded by vowing to form a coalition to defend marriage as between one man and one woman.

Outside the Governor's office, gay couples and their supporters gathered in giddy anticipation. An informal lottery was held to decide who could watch the speech in person.

At the podium, an emotional Gregoire announced her support for same-sex marriage. She said in the middle of the last century civil rights activists fought for interracial marriage.

"Now it's our time, it's this generation's call to end discrimination -– discrimination against our gay and lesbian citizens," Gregoire told the crowd. "It is time in Washington state for marriage equality."

Gregoire is a Democrat and a Catholic. She's not running for re-election and admits she's changed her mind on this issue since first taking office seven years ago.

When asked if 2012 is THE year for gay marriage in Washington, she was unequivocal.

"We got a very important vote today, we'll get the rest that we need to get it to my desk," she said to applause.

Equally bullish was Senate Budget Chair Ed Murray, who's openly gay. He says he'll need some Republican votes to pass gay marriage in the Senate, but he quipped that won't be as hard as lining up support for a half-penny sales tax hike.

"Suddenly gay marriage becomes easier than raising taxes," Murray said with a laugh.

Afterwards Jana Simpson and Nancy Woods stood with one of their three children — four-and-a-half-year-old daughter Sadie — in the crowded lobby of the governor's office. Simpson says if the Governor's bill becomes law she and Woods plan to be among the first in line to wed.

"We've waited 11 years for this and three kids later we're ready for it," she said.

Simpson and Woods are currently registered as domestic partners in Washington with all the same rights as married couples. But Simpson says that's not enough. Marriage, she feels, would give their kids a sense of legitimacy.

"Our son was recently questioned on which one of us was his step-mom," she said. "And he doesn't look at us that way. He came home and questioned us on that and said aren't you both our moms?"

Minority Republicans in the legislature were fairly muted in the wake of the Governor's announcement. State Senator Dan Swecker, a often vocal opponent of gay marriage, did say it's a divisive issue that will make it harder to resolve the state's budget shortfall.

Outside the legislature, conservative Christian activists are already meeting to develop an opposition campaign.

Pastor Ken Hutcherson, senior pastor at Antioch Bible Church outside of Seattle. says "We want to kill it in the legislature."

But if that fails, he says opponents will pursue a repeal effort at the ballot. Hutcherson says Gregoire is caving to what he calls a powerful "homosexual agenda" in Washington.

"Marriage has been between a man and a woman since Adam and Eve. And you got to understand something, I believe the bible, I live the bible, I walk in the bible, I will fight what the bible says I need to fight and homosexual lifestyle and same-sex marriage is one of those things."

But that's not the position of most Washingtonians, says Matt Barreto at the University of Washington. He runs the Washington Poll and predicts the state's voters would uphold gay marriage if it ends up on the ballot.

"We've seen this consistent increase each year since 2006 when we started asking questions about this to the point that we have a very clear majority here in Washington state that do support same-sex marriage," Barreto says.

But Pastor Hutcherson notes voters in other states have a record of limiting marriage to couples of the opposite sex. And gay rights advocates in Oregon delayed a planned gay marriage ballot measure this year until — as they put it — "we are ready to win."

If Washington allows same-sex couples to marry, it would become the seventh state in the nation to do so.

On the Web:

Gov. Gregoire's announcement:

Same sex marriage laws by state:

Copyright 2012 Northwest News Network

Copyright 2012 Northwest News Network

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy as well as the Washington State legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia." Prior to joining the Northwest News Network, Austin worked as a television reporter in Seattle, Portland and Boise. Austin is a graduate of Garfield High School in Seattle and Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut. Austin’s reporting has been recognized with awards from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors, Public Radio News Directors Incorporated and the Society of Professional Journalists.
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