OLYMPIA – Lawmakers have chosen today – the day that millions across the country celebrate the bonds of affection shared between two people in love – as the day to introduce major legislation that would no longer restrict gays and lesbians from their right to marry.
Today is not the first time the issue of marriage equality for gays and lesbians and the Valentine’s Day holiday have crossed paths.
In early February of 1998, in what has proven to be the darkest of Valentine's for gay and lesbian families in our state, the Legislature enshrined discrimination as the law of the land in Washington by overriding the veto of then-Gov. Gary Locke to approve the so-called "Defense of Marriage Act."
This Valentine’s Day, Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver, and Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, said the night is darkest just before the dawn.
"Over the past several years, the Legislature and the public together have been steadily building a bridge to equality for gay and lesbian families," said Moeller. He noted the passage of civil rights legislation in 2006 protecting gays and lesbians from discrimination in employment, housing, and financial transactions, and then three successive years of securing broader and broader domestic partnership rights -- which included successfully withstanding a hostile referendum challenge at the ballot in 2009.
"We've made tremendous progress since 1998," Murray said. "Gay and lesbian families in Washington now enjoy the same state spousal rights that their married straight friends enjoy – except for the name ‘marriage’. The recognition that their loving, lifelong commitment is no different from the loving, lifelong commitment of straight couples is the final step to achieving full equality. I believe the Legislature and the public are both ready to take that final step."
Moeller and Murray said their legislation protects religious freedom and the rights of clergy and religious institutions to determine for whom to perform marriage ceremonies and which marriages to recognize for their religious purposes.
The option for a couple to seek a domestic partnership is maintained.
The marriage equality bill in the Senate, SB 5793, was introduced today. Its companion bill in the House will be introduced Tuesday.