In an historic vote last night in Olympia, the Washington state Senate passed a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage. The stage is set for the state to become the seventh in the nation to allow gay and lesbian couples to wed. The measure now heads to the House, which is expected to approve it by a comfortable margin. Gov. Chris Gregoire came out in support of gay marriage last month after a long "personal journey" and says she will sign the bill into law. Opponents have promised to challenge it at the ballot with a referendum.
It was an emotional evening under the Capitol dome. The packed public galleries burst into applause as the Senate passed the measure on a 28-21 vote after nearly an hour and a half of debate. Four Republicans crossed party lines and voted with majority Democrats for the measure. Three Democrats voted against it.
Democratic Sen. Ed Murray, the bill's sponsor, said he knew same-sex marriage "is as contentious as any issue that this body has considered in its history."
Murray, the Seattle Times reports, and his longtime partner, Michael Shiosaki, held a celebratory news conference before the Senate convened for the vote.
Lawmakers who vote against gay marriage "are not, nor should they be accused of bigotry," said Murray, the gay lawmaker who has spearheaded gay rights and domestic partnership laws in the state. "Those of us who support this legislation are not, and we should not be accused of, undermining family life or religious freedom. Marriage is how society says you are a family."
Nearly a dozen amendments were introduced before the final vote was taken. One of them, sponsored by Sen. Brian Hatfield, D-Raymond, was an amendment to put the measure on the November ballot. It was defeated by a 26-23 vote. Hatfield ended up voting for the bill anyway.
Even though Hatfield's referendum amendment was rejected, opponents have already vowed to file a challenge. That cannot be done until after it is passed by the full Legislature and signed into law by Gregoire -- all of which could happen as early as next week. Then opponents must turn in 120,577 signatures by June 6.
If the opposition is unable to able to collect enough signatures, gay and lesbian couples would be able to be wed starting in June. Otherwise, they would have to wait until the results of a November election.
A Christian pastor -- Steven Andrew, president of USA Christian Ministries -- meanwhile, is urging Christians nationwide to boycott Starbucks as long as the Seattle company continues to support gay rights.
Andrew called on Christians to stop drinking Starbucks coffee. "Starbucks is no longer fashionable. If your church still uses Starbucks, then your pastor is a friend of the world," Andrew said in a statement. "God calls those who oppose Him 'haters of God.'"