OLYMPIA - As Washington State Senate President Brad Owens announced that the same-sex marriage bill, ESSB 6239, had passed, an anxious audience of hundreds watching attentively during tense floor debate erupted with applause.
The bill, which had bipartisan support, passed in the Senate 28 to 21 late last night, Feb. 1. The bill has already garnered enough support in the House after it moves through committees to pass and is expected to be on the governor's desk early next week.
"I think it's one of the more powerful experiences of my life," said Sen. Kevin Ranker (D - Orcas Island). "This, getting married, and having my little girl. This is amazing. It's an incredibly powerful experience."
Sen. Ed Murray (D - Seattle), the main sponsor of the bill, was pleased with the outcome of the debate. "It was one of the best debates I've ever seen in my time in the legislature," he said. "And when we finally won, it was incredibly moving."
Opponents to the bill are expected to file a referendum if the governor, as she is expected to do, signs the bill into law. A referendum would allow Washington's voters to decide whether to adopt, ratify or reject the legislation. A minimum of 120,577 signatures of registered voters are required to qualify a referendum for the fall ballot, which must be submitted by June 6.
Voters in 2009 easily ratified the state's "Everything but Marriage" domestic partnership law, a precursor to the marriage equality bill approved last night by the Senate.
During the debate, Sen. Brian Hatfield (D -Raymond) proposed an amendment to place the measure before Washington voters without requiring signatures. Hatfield believes that the legislation would create a significant enough change that the legislature should give citizens "the right to have their voice[s] heard," he said.
The amendment was rejected 23 to 26.
All told, seven floor amendments were passed, most of which provided protections for religious organizations, including churches, faith-based and religious educational institutions and religious officials that could refuse services related to the solemnization or celebration of a marriage.
An amendment proposed by Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen (D - Camano Island) to ensure that the law has no effect on the way religious or non-profit organizations currently handle adoption, foster care or other child-placing services was also approved.
Speaking in opposition to the legislation was Sen. Dan Swecker (R - Rochester). He said that the legislation would silence "those who believe in the traditional definition of marriage."
Many tears were shed as members of the Senate delivered their testimonies. Ranker spoke in support of the legislation and recollected memories from his childhood and the hardships his father faced as a gay man.
"It was scary," said Ranker of his testimony. "I've given dozens and dozens of speeches on this floor on all sorts of issues and I'm a fairly confident speaker - as my colleagues would probably tell me, maybe too confident - but this, I was nervous. I rehearsed it with my staff, which I never do. For me, I write a few bullet points and give a speech; it's not a problem.
"But this one I really had to think about it, because it was so personal. The hardest thing was, and this is why I was rehearsing it with my staff, I couldn't get through it without losing it. I'm just glad that I finished it," said Ranker.
Should the governor, who requested the legislation, sign the bill into law next week, Washington becomes the seventh state in the nation to legalize same-sex marriage.
- Maida Suljevic and Scott Panitz are reporters with the WNPA Olympia News Bureau