Gay marriage was made legal in the state of Washington in February of 2012. The law was approved by lawmakers on February 1 but the standard “enactment period” is ninety days after the state’s legislative session ends, meaning the measure’s legal power is basically on hold. The vote resulted in a 28-21 victory that most of those waiting in packed public galleries were ecstatic to hear. Only a week before the Senate vote took place did the last few senators (to make the majority) say they would vote in its favor.
Governor Christine Gregoire a Democrat and, surprisingly, Roman Catholic was happy to sign the bill but had only made the decision to do so around January. She said “I’m proud our same-sex couples will no longer be treated as separate but equal.” Both legislative bodies are controlled by Democrats who also made up the majority of supporters; four Republicans voted for the bill and three Democrats voted against it.
Representative Jamie Pedersen and Senator Ed Murray, the bill’s sponsor, are both gay lawmakers who were thrilled about the bill being signed. After the results were announced, Murray reiterated that those who voted for it should not be considered as “undermining” family or religious values and Pedersen, who has four children with his partner of 20 years, said “my friends, welcome to the other side of the rainbow.” This makes Washington the seventh state to approve a gay marriage bill.
Other major Washingtonians that stood behind the gay marriage bill were (Washington-based) Starbucks, Microsoft, and Amazon.
The opponent’s leaders are religious conservatives and Roman Catholic bishops; protesters, including the Knights of Columbus, were waiting with signs outside the reception hall where the bill was signed. Opponents are committed to taking down the law in either one of two ways: a referendum for repeal—a ballot measure in November—or an initiative that defines marriage as strictly between a man and a woman. If a repeal referendum, which would require 120,577 signatures by June 6, makes it onto the November ballot, the law would only go into effect (or be repealed) after the election results in December. However, if they fail to obtain the signatures or, in the event of an initiative to redefine marriage, the law alone would not prevent gay marriages from moving forward under the recently passed measure starting June 7. An anti-gay marriage initiative was already filed but the wording is still being worked out.
Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum, who rabidly opposes gay marriage, was in Washington speaking with voters when the gay marriage bill was voted upon.
The Bill’s Specifications
When the gay marriage bill passed there were already more than 9,300 couples in domestic partnerships under the domestic partnership law of 2007. These couples will have two years to marry or dissolve their relationships; domestic partnerships that do not end before June 30, 2014 will automatically convert into marriages. However, for senior couples, where at least one partner is 62 or older, domestic partnerships will retain their status. This exemption was added for the purpose of helping seniors who fear losing a pension or Social Security benefits by remarrying.
Numerous amendments were proposed and some passed to strengthen legal protection for religious organizations and groups. For the most part, Washington’s gay marriage bill was well thought out and includes details that other states that have approved gay marriage simply left out.
What does remain unclear is whether same-sex weddings performed during this waiting period would then be nullified should an initiative pass in November, but perhaps this will be clarified as opponents’ progress—or lack thereof—moves forward.
- Is gay marriage allowed in Washington? Yes.
- Are domestic partnerships legal? For senior couples, yes. All other existing partnerships will become marriages in June of 2014.