by Nick Ardizzone – SGN Staff WriterOn January 28, State Senator Ed Murray announced the next incremental expansion to Washington’s Domestic Partnership Bill. The latest expansion, which will be heard in the House and Senate on February 5, hopes to grant domestic partnerships all the remaining rights which were excluded from the first two bills, making civil unions equal to heterosexual marriage.
In attendance to support the bill were representatives for Equal Rights Washington, the ACLU of Washington, the Pride Foundation, and the Greater Seattle Business Association.
LEGISLATURE “ON BOARD”
Murray began the Olympia press conference by addressing the nation’s financial troubles. “Today, as in recent days, the economic news has grown darker and darker, and families across this nation have grown more and more insecure. If there was a theme for this session and a theme for this bill, that theme would be ‘family economic security.’”
He brightened when he spoke of the opposition to the domestic partnership bills. “The most remarkable thing about this bill is that it’s unremarkable,” said Murray. “Instead of the cultural wars that we have seen year after year, going back to the civil rights bill, we see a legislature that is mostly on board in moving forward and protecting all Washington’s families.” The bill has seen great support in the House.
Murray vowed to continue to fight for equality in Washington. “It’s not marriage, but it is everything that heterosexual families have in this state currently,” he said. “And while we need these protections, ultimately we will not be protected as Americans across this nation unless we achieve full marriage equality.”
Not all aspects of the bill will become active immediately. “Some of the financial impacts of this bill, such as pensions for those of us who are state employees, will be deferred to at least 2012, in hopes that by then that this very serious depression or recession & will have ended,” Murray said.
“EXACTLY THE SAME”
At the podium, State Representative Jamie Pedersen thanked Murray for his work in advancing the cause of marriage equality to its present state. “Two years ago, our families had no protection,” he said. “We were stunned by a Supreme Court decision that said that the legislature was free to offer no legal protections to our families.” This launched the work toward a comprehensive domestic partnership bill – a goal which is now within reach.
He explained how the first year of the domestic partnership bill focused on granting same-sex couples a basic 23 rights and obligations, while the second year dealt with economic and property rights. “This year, we’re repeating that process by adding nearly 300 rights and obligations & to make sure that our families are treated exactly the same.”
Nearly 5,000 couples from across Washington have registered with the Secretary of State’s office for partnerships.
VOICES FROM HOME
Pedersen introduced four Lesbian couples, several with children in tow, who spoke on the importance of the bill’s swift passage through the House and Senate.
“We’d like our daughter to grow up knowing that our family is as valued as any other family in our community,” said Margaret Hobart, who has been in a relationship with her partner for 20 years.
Police officer Adrienne Purcella rose with her partner, Libby Cope. “Should something ever happen to me on the job, with the passage of this bill, I now know Libby would be taken care of, and that she would have the same protections as any other police officer’s spouse,” Purcella said, her voice cracking with emotion.
Seattle attorney Vickie Wallin spoke, holding her 7-year-old son, Sam, in her arms. “Even though we’ll have equal rights, we won’t have full marriage equality until we have marriage equality,” she said. “It may not seem like a distinction of much difference, but today me and Sam were talking & and what he said was that if we’re not able to get married, what it’s really saying is that families with two moms or two dads, there shouldn’t be such families.
“We can do much better, she said. “What I’m really hoping is this last step will be the final step before full marriage equality for same-sex couples in our state.”
BRIEF DOORS OF OPPORTUNITY
“I have the honor this year of introducing the marriage bill in the house,” said Vancouver, WA Representative Jim Moeller, who spoke passionately about the bill. “I have 42 signatories – sponsors – at this time, which is unprecedented in the history of this legislature. We have, to a commendable extent, rallied together for the common good of all the citizens of our communities.”
“Men and women across Washington State have embraced a historic standard that discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation has no place in this community. And now, we as Washingtonians must pull together for the further establishment of fair, common-sense principles that strengthen domestic partnership rights and offer benefits for same-sex couples.”
“Gay and Lesbian Americans in the past few years have entered into marriage through brief doors of opportunity, pledging their lives with and to one another,” he said. “Let’s be unambiguous in our discussion of this issue. Words are extremely important. Marriage is the word, and civil marriage is the goal.”
“What we know is what we’ve known for a long time: Separate is not equal, and we will go for equality.”
YEARS, NOT DECADES
In answering questions from the audience and press in attendance, Pedersen expounded on some of the new rights, which included death and pension benefits as well as “almost whimsical” new franchising and sea urchin fishing rights. About 100 of the 300 new rights have to do with public employees.
A member of the audience asked, “If this passes, what comes next?” “Marriage,” Murray said, laughing.
Pederson, smiling, stepped in to clarify. “The purpose of this legislation is to talk about how our families are harmed concretely by their exclusion from civil marriage, so that’s the conversation we expect to continue. We hope that, sooner rather than later, we’ll be here talking about a marriage bill.”
Murray, who has championed civil rights in Olympia for years, put the fight into perspective. “It will take some years, but it will not take the 29 years the civil rights bill took. I think this is a multi-year effort, not a multi-decade effort.”