Governor Chris Gregoire today announced that she will introduce legislation to allow same-sex marriage in Washington state.
At a press conference Wednesday, Gregoire told a group of marriage equality supporters that the time had come for this historic move:
“It’s time, it’s the right thing to do, and I will introduce a bill to do it,” Gregoire said. “I say that as a wife, a mother, a student of the law, and above all as a Washingtonian with a lifelong commitment to equality and freedom. Some say domestic partnerships are the same as marriage.That’s a version of the discriminatory ‘separate but equal’ argument.”
If the state’s legislators were to pass a marriage equality bill it would make Washington the seventh state in the nation to legalize same-sex marriage. The other states include Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, New Hampshire, Vermont, and New York.
In a statement Gregoire notes: ”Our gay and lesbian families face the same hurdles as heterosexual families–making ends meet, choosing what school to send their kids to, finding someone to grow old with, standing in front of friends and family and making a lifetime commitment.
“For all couples, astate marriage license is very important. It gives them the right to enter into a marriage contract in which their legal interests, and those of their children if any, are protected by well-established civil law.”
Gregoire has previously opposed same-sex marriage and when running for governor in 2004 said that she believed that while domestic partnerships should be legalized she thought marriage was a religious issue.
In a 2008 interview, when she ran for a second term, Gregoire explained her beliefs in more detail.
“There are two issues here,” she said. “One is the state’s responsibility. To me, the state’s responsibility is to absolutely ensure equality. The other is a religious issue, and I leave it to the churches to make that call about marriage.”
Gregoire has, however, advocated in other areas. In 2006 she signed legislation banning discrimination based on sexual orientation. Gregoire has also consistently supported domestic partnerships, signing House Bill 3104 which gave additional rights and responsibilities to the already established domestic partnership registry.
Gregoire has since signed legislation to further those rights, including legislation in 2009 that requires all state agencies to ensure all privileges, immunities, rights, benefits, and responsibilities granted to married individuals are granted to those on the state domestic partnership registry.
However, it now appears Gregoire has evolved to supporting full marriage equality.
“Throughout our history, we have fought discrimination,” Gregoire said. “We have joined together to recognize equality for racial minorities, women, people with disabilities, immigrants.Please join today to support equality again in our great state. It is the right thing to do and it is time.”
Given Gregoire’s previous desire to avoid a clash with religious rights it appears likely that her gay marriage bill might be modeled on the New York legislation which was able to win Republican support because it stated explicitly the existing right for religious institutions to refuse to be involved with same-sex marriage — however, the exact details of Gregoire’s legislation are unknown and at this stage this is just conjecture.
Democrats have a 27-22 majority in the Washington Senate and enjoy a 56-42 majority in the House, but in the past several Democrats have opposed extending rights to same-sex couples so success is by no means guaranteed.
The state’s 60-day legislative session begins on Monday.