by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
State Senator Ed Murray (D-Seattle) filed Senate Bill 6239 on January 13, only two votes shy of having enough support in the state Senate to pass marriage equality legislation. By January 19, that number had shrunk to one, as an undecided Democratic lawmaker, Sen. Jim Kastama of Puyallup, announced his support of the bill.
If passed, SB 6239 would provide equal protection for all families in Washington by creating equality in civil marriage and changing the domestic partnership laws while protecting religious freedom.
Zach Silk, campaign manager for Washington United for Marriage - a broad statewide coalition of organizations, congregations, unions, and business associations that will work to obtain civil marriage for Lesbian and Gay couples in 2012 - said the introduction of the bill was 'the next step towards making the promise of equality a reality in Washington state.'
'The introduction of this bill not only recognizes the value that Lesbian and Gay families in Washington make to our united community, but also upholds the longstanding tradition of the separation of church and state in this country,' Silk said. 'Marriage is about dignity, commitment, love, and respect - it is the ultimate expression of a pro-family society. The foundation of marriage helps us build stable families, and now is the time to recognize the importance of treating all families in Washington state equally.'
While Seattle Gay News won't declare victory in Olympia just yet, one can't help but get excited about the positive turn of events. As it stands, the state House is widely expected to have enough support to pass marriage equality, and Gov. Chris Gregoire publicly endorsed the proposal earlier this month. And so it goes, LGBT citizens in Washington state need only lobby for one more vote in the Senate and marriage equality will be close enough to reach out and touch.
'There's tremendous energy in Olympia right now surrounding marriage equality,' Silk told Seattle Gay News. 'Our coalition is hard at work lobbying lawmakers who have yet to pledge their support for the bill.'
Silk said that a big boost to the campaign was the recent support the marriage equality bill received from the King County Council.
'What we are finding is that, for many politicians, the issue of marriage equality has risen above traditional politics,' he said, adding, 'this is about values and doing what is right.'
It would seem that, with each passing day, more and more citizens, corporations, and clergy are beginning to 'get it.' Marriage equality is on its way to Washington state.
Even Microsoft jumped on the bandwagon. This week, the technology giant made public its support of the legislation, signing on to a letter to legislative leaders with other prominent Northwest companies. Vulcan, NIKE, RealNetworks, Group Health Cooperative, and Concur were among the firms that signed the letter.
Microsoft's general council, Brad Smith, said, '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. Employers in the technology sector face an unprecedented national and global competition for top talent. Despite progress made in recent years with domestic partnership rights, same-sex couples in Washington still hold a different status from their neighbors. Marriage equality in Washington would put employers here on an equal footing with employers in the six other states that already recognize the committed relationships of same-sex couples - Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, and Vermont. This in turn will help us continue to compete for talent.'
'Marriage equality would put Washington businesses in the strongest, most competitive position to attract, recruit, and retain the best and brightest employees - and to keep high-caliber talent in the state,' said Silk. 'With hearings on the bills [Senate and House] scheduled for this coming Monday, the momentum continues to grow in support of bestowing equal dignity and respect on all Washington families.'
Silk, who grew up in a rural Wisconsin farming village, says that while Washington United for Marriage is thankful for the endorsements, he is not surprised by the shift in opinion surrounding marriage equality. He calls the fight for LGBT Americans to secure marriage equality - state by state and on a federal level - the 'next evolution of civil rights in the U.S.'
'This is a historic moment for Washington state,' he said. 'It is our intention to win in Olympia and at the ballot box.'
Part of Murray and Washington United for Marriage's success in rounding up support for the bill has been centered on time. It's a short legislative session (just 60 days) so, according to Silk, 'We've not spent a lot of time lobbying the senators whom we've identified as absolute 'no' votes.'
'We've had talks with lawmakers who are either undecided or who we think are moveable,' he said. 'Many of these lawmakers have strong supporters of marriage equality living in their districts.'
With just one more vote left to get, Silk and his team say they are engaged in talks with Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen (D-Camano Island), Sen. Brian Hatfield (D-Raymond), Sen. Andy Hill (R-Redmond), and Sen. Joe Fain (R-Auburn).
With momentum building, Silk says that Washington United for Marriage has shifted its focus to Lobby Day in Olympia on February 16.
'Our entire coalition is working on this,' he said. 'We want to make this a monumental event with a crowd that measures in the thousands.'
Silk said Lobby Day 2012 will consist of a full day of events. 'This is the moment,' he said. 'We've got to have a strong showing on the steps of the State Capitol that day. It's so important.'
Silk says that, beyond the goal of a large and energized crowd, they need individuals from legislative districts whose elected officials have not yet signed on to support the marriage equality bill, to show up and speak directly to their senator on Lobby Day.
It is no secret that once the marriage equality bill passes the House and Senate, Gov. Gregoire will sign it into law. It is also no secret that a referendum campaign will begin, where marriage equality detractors will put the matter up to public vote in November. Silk says that Washington United for Marriage is ready for that fight.
Already, the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) has pledged it will send $250,000 to help defeat any Republican lawmakers who vote in favor of the bill. The group also said it will work to ensure Washington residents have a chance to vote on the same-sex marriage legislation in November.
NOM and other out-of-state groups are a fact of life that Washington United for Marriage will have to live with, and they will need to raise a considerable amount of money to wage a successful campaign to ensure victory at the ballot box.
'We will need to raise a substantial amount of money,' Silk told SGN. 'We can never underestimate the depth of the purse that our opponents have. They've proven they have the ability to raise money swiftly and spend greatly.'
Silk says that while we don't need to exceed their totals, we will need to match it.
Make no mistake, this will be a campaign that will cost millions of dollars. In the short term, let's not get ahead of ourselves; we still need one more vote.
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