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Washington Senate passes same-sex marriage bill

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A dissenting sign finds its way among a sea of anti-gay marriage placards at a noon rally Monday, Jan. 23, 2012 in Olympia, Wash., of several hundred supporters of traditional marriage laws. Photo by Steve Bloom/Associated Press/ The Olympian

After two hours of debate, the Washington state Senate passed a bill Wednesday that would legalize same-sex marriage, setting the state on its way to becoming the seventh to do so, pending almost-guaranteed passage by the state House and the signature of supportive Gov. Christine Gregoire.

The bill’s passage in the Senate was generally assumed prior to last night’s session, with 25 votes secured beforehand. Supporters gained three more after debate for a total of 28, securing a simple majority in the 49-seat Senate. Those 28 votes included 24 Democrats and four Republicans, while three Democrats and 18 Republicans voted against the bill.

A vote on the bill by the state House could come as soon as Feb. 8, where the bill is expected to pass. Democrats hold majorities in both houses of the Washington State Legislature, and Gregoire, a Democrat, announced her support for the bill last month.

The bill passed the state House Judiciary Committee on Monday along party lines, with seven Democrats voting for it and six Republicans voting in opposition. A Senate committee first approved the Senate bill, sponsored by Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, last Friday.

Sen. Cheryl Pflug of Olympia, one of the four Republicans to vote in favor of the bill, gave an passionate speech during the debate, emphasizing that tradition is “kind, often, to the majority, but not so kind to the minority,” according to the Seattle newspaper The Stranger.

“It is part of our struggle to ensure that everybody …. should have the right to enjoy those personal freedoms we hold dear,” Pflug said.

Marie Sarra, president of Marquette’s Gender Sexuality Alliance and a senior in the College of Health Sciences, said earlier this week that if the bill were passed she would be jubilant.

“(As more states) legalize (same-sex) marriage, the number of senators and people that realize it’s important to accept (same-sex marriage) — and damaging not to — will increase,” Sarra said.

Rachael Wandrey, a senior in the College of Arts & Sciences who participates in GSA, said Wisconsin has a long way to go before it can match Washington’s progress. Wandrey also participates in Empowerment, a student organization that works to address and promote awareness of disparities in equality between women and men.

“There is little hope for same-sex marriage under the governorship of Scott Walker,” Wandrey said. “The best we can do is wish for a Democrat to win the recall election. Even then, Wisconsin likely has a way to go before same-sex marriage will be discussed seriously.”

Washington passed a domestic partnership law in 2007 and an “everything but marriage” law in 2009 that expanded domestic partnership rights. More than 9,300 couples are currently registered in domestic relationships in the state.

Wandrey said the number of people in domestic partnerships should be a message to politicians.

“This statistic should only encourage lawmakers to push for change,” she said. “There are real people and families behind these numbers.”

If the marriage bill passes the House during the current legislative session, same-sex couples could be married as soon as June 1.

Rep. Jay Rodne, R-Snoqualmie, and the bill’s other opponents have threatened to file a referendum if the bill is passed. Rodne told the Associated Press the bill was “an act of raw political power to modify the definition of marriage.”

Rodne and other opponents of the bill would have to wait to file the referendum after the bill is passed and signed by Gregoire. The referendum, which would seek to define marriage as between one man and one woman, also would require 120,577 signatures by June 6 in order to qualify for the November ballot.

Anita Yandle, a senior at the University of Washington and resident of Washington for the majority of her life, foresees the bill becoming law and the referendum not having a shot.

“A substantial majority of Washington voters do support marriage equality, and if the bill is passed through the senate and goes to a ballot, Washington’s voters will most likely vote in favor,” Yandle said before last night’s vote. “The chances of a referendum passing are not substantial because the chances are that if any sort of vote occurs voters will stick to marriage equality.”

Yandle said she is proud of her state and that this is a pivotal moment for Washington and the state’s push for equality. She gave an example of a fellow student and her push for her mothers’ equality.

“A girl testified for marriage equality on Monday at the hearing and said that her mothers were the only ones in her class to not be married and how sad she felt about this,” Yandle said. “This is absolutely pivotal and really important for same-sex couples to be married when other couples can be.”

States that currently allow same-sex marriage include New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maryland, New Jersey and Iowa. The District of Columbia does as well. Efforts similar to Washington’s are underway in Maryland and New Jersey, and a referendum will be on Maine ballots this November to legalize same-sex marriage.

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