This editorial will appear in Friday’s print edition.
State lawmakers will have a lot on their plates Monday when they return to Olympia and address the budget shortfall as well as Thursday’s state supreme court ruling on education funding.
But they should also take the opportunity this session to pass landmark legislation proposed by Gov. Chris Gregoire and expand the legal rights of marriage to homosexual couples.
Gregoire is proposing that the Legislature legalize same-sex marriage, which would make Washington the seventh state to allow such unions after Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont. The District of Columbia also allows same-sex marriage.
It is the right thing to do. While allowing gays to enter into domestic partnerships – “everything but marriage” – was a welcome step forward in this state in 2009, it is still not the same right enjoyed by heterosexuals. It is separate, and not equal.
If Gregoire’s legislation is approved, religious institutions would not be required to perform same-sex marriages; that is their right under the First Amendment to the Constitution.
The time is ripe for Gregoire’s legislation. The American public is increasingly open toward same-sex marriage. It has not created havoc in states where it is already allowed. Ten countries now allow it, including Canada, Spain, Norway, Sweden and Argentina. Gays may now serve openly in one of the nation’s most conservative workplaces: the military.
Washington – now a solidly blue state – is likely to legalize gay marriage at some point in the near future. If the Legislature does not do it, it is almost certain to come as a mandate from the state supreme court.
A policy change this far-reaching should happen through the democratic process, whether by legislation in Olympia or ballot initiative. The never-ending dispute over legalized abortion demonstrates the limits of judicial mandates in settling matters of deep social, cultural and religious division.
Allowing same-sex marriage is about equal rights under the law for all of Washington’s citizens. The state has an interest in promoting not only equality and justice, but also the stability of lives and the pursuit of happiness.
Legalizing same-sex marriage would help achieve those goals, and it would put the state of Washington on the right side of history.