The 2012 Fight for Marriage Equality in Washington State Begins

Washington State Governor Chris Gregoire

Support from the Governor and the Legislature

Washington State Governor Chris Gregoire announced on January 4, 2012 that she would not just support but actually propose legislation legalizing same-sex marriage in the state. Her decision was cheered by advocates of marriage equality, who believe the measures (SB 6239 and HB 2516) will be approved in the current legislative session. As of this writing, supporters need only to find one more vote in the Senate for the measure to pass. The state House already has enough support for the measure.

Meanwhile, six prominent and high-profile Washington companies have publicly supported the effort: Microsoft, Vulcan, NIKE, RealNetworks, Group Health Cooperative, and Concur. A spokesperson for Microsoft explained his company’s decision:

As other states recognize marriage equality, Washington’s employers are at a disadvantage if we cannot offer a similar, inclusive environment to our talented employees, our top recruits and their families.

If the measures pass, Washington will become the seventh state in the U.S. to legalize same-sex marriage. The others are Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, and Vermont.

Since 2007, same-sex couples in Washington have been able to register for Domestic Partnership status, which accords them virtually all the benefits that the state can offer to married couples. They are still denied over 1000 federal benefits, however. Passage of a marriage equality measure will send a powerful message to the U.S. Congress that the time has come to overturn the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

The proposed legislation pertains only to civil marriage and contains no provisions requiring faith groups to officiate at weddings.

Anti-Equality Forces Mobilize

The National Organization for Marriage (NOM), which fights marriage equality throughout the U.S., has pledged $250,000 to help fund primary challenges to Republican legislators who support the measures. NOM will also support efforts to bring the matter to a referendum vote in November 2012.

The Washington State Catholic Conference (WSCC) has also denounced the measures in a hyperbolic press release claiming that same-sex marriage threatens “the stability of society” and “the continuation of the human race.” They urge parishioners to “pray for married couples and families,” as if straight marriages were now in imminent danger of collapse.

The Family Policy Institute of Washington (FPIW) has been critical of Microsoft and other Washington companies for their support of the measures, claiming that these companies essentially caved to bullying tactics by proponents of same-sex marriage. FPIW is associated with the Family Research Council, the Alliance Defense Fund, and Focus on the Family, all of which fight legalization of same-sex marriage on the state and federal levels.

Stephen Pidgeon

Stephen Pidgeon, a hyper-conservative attorney from Everett, WA, filed an initiative against the proposed marriage equality measure just six days after Gov. Gregoire’s announcement. The initiative would reaffirm the state’s Defense of Marriage Act. Pidgeon has also declared he will join the race for Attorney General against Reagan Dunn, a Metropolitan King County Council member who supports same-sex marriage. Pidgeon is considered a loose cannon even in his own party after writing “The Obama Error,” where he claimed that President Obama is a Muslim who wants to place this country under the “iron fist of an Islamic Caliphate.” His chances against Dunn, an experienced politician, are thought to be slim, and his ability to garner support for an initiative is also in doubt. From the gay community’s perspective, he may be the ideal opponent in this contest.

The Bent Angle will provide periodic updates and commentary on developments in Washington State’s tug-of-war over marriage equality. Also check with Washington United for Marriage for updates and to explore ways you can help.

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