SEATTLE – Gay marriage backers believe the time has come to take another step toward equal marriage rights for same-sex couples and make Washington the seventh state to legalize marriage of gay and lesbian couples, The Seattle Times reported in Sunday’s newspaper.
A coalition of dozens of gay-rights, civil-liberties, labor and religious groups say they’ll pressure the Legislature to pass a marriage equality law in 2012 and they are prepared to defend it against any referendum challenge.
Their effort begins Monday with a Bellevue news conference, followed by a series of suburban town halls to show support for gay marriage outside of liberal Seattle.
Two years ago, the Legislature passed the domestic partnership law nicknamed “everything but marriage.”
A group of Democratic state lawmakers has committed to introducing and pushing new legislation. While expressing confidence about their chances in the state House, backers say they don’t have the votes yet in the Senate.
“We’re going to push it,” said state Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, a gay lawmaker from the 43rd district and a leader in the marriage effort. “I believe 2012 is the best chance we’ve ever had to make marriage equality a reality.”
Opponents are ready too.
“I’d give them a 50-50 chance,” said state Sen. Dan Swecker, R-Rochester, a leading legislative opponent of gay marriage.
“My goal isn’t to demonize anybody, but my assertion is we’re all better off if we preserve marriage in its traditional form,” Swecker said. “At what point does the institution of one man and one woman become eroded to the point where all kinds of other alternatives exist?”
Swecker doubts lawmakers will be anxious to take up such a controversial subject in the midst of another difficult budget debate.
Democrats hold a 27-22 majority in the state Senate and a 56-42 advantage in the state House. But some conservative Democrats in the state Senate have voted with Republicans during previous gay marriage debates.
Some gay-rights supporters will have to sway some suburban Republicans to their cause. “We cannot win with just Democrats,” Murray said.
Leaders of the newly formed gay-marriage coalition say their strategy will include a simple appeal for all gay and lesbian couples and their supporters to share their personal stories about what marriage equality would mean to them. They’ll begin that effort with town halls this week in Vancouver, Puyallup, Lakewood and Gig Harbor, followed by others across the state.
“That is going to create the conversation we need … so we can win in the Legislature,” said Josh Friedes, Director of Marriage Equality with Equal Rights Washington, one of the group’s organizers.
Groups and individuals in the coalition have been working slowly and steadily over time. The Washington Legislature first passed a law in 2006 prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing, lending and insurance.
Since then, the rights of same-sex couples 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, gay marriage is legal in New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, Iowa and the District of Columbia, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.