A bill legalizing gay marriage in Washington passed its biggest legislative hurdle Wednesday night and moved closer to becoming law.
The state Senate — where the legislation faced its toughest test — approved the measure on a 28-21 mostly party-line vote.
The Senate was the key to the bill's future. The state House, which has a larger margin of Democrats, is expected to pass the bill soon, possibly as soon as next week, and send it to Gov. Christine Gregoire for her signature.
Emotions ran high on both sides of the debate in the Senate. The sponsor of the bill, Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, said of the supporters, "We are patriots who are trying to do what is best for our country."
Murray, who is gay, told the Senate that once gay marriage is legal, all senators will be receiving an invitation to his marriage to his partner.
Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, said he had served in the Army for 20 years and in combat zones with gay soldiers who were "willing to take a bullet for me."
"How could I look them in the eye if I voted no on this bill?" Hobbs asked.
But Sen. Dan Swecker, R-Rochester, had urged a no vote and said the measure would be "the best way to break up the next generation of children."
Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, nearly broke down as he said that, spiritually, he could not vote for such a law.
Currently, Washington state has a domestic partnership law, as a 2009 statewide vote ratified the "Everything But Marriage" legislation.
Another gay marriage opponent, Sen. Val Stevens, R-Arlington, said, "What is next for our state? Will there be another bill next year, and another the year after that, until homosexuality is taught as normal and only an 'alternative' in Washington’s public schools, or some other societal tradition is discarded in the name of 'equality?' It is the proverbial slippery slope."
When the vote was announced, dozens of people sitting in the spectators' gallery jumped up in joy and celebrated; some broke down and cried.
Gregoire — who watched the debate and vote from just off the Senate chamber — said the "Senate stood up for what is right and told all families in our state that they are equal and that the state cannot be in the business of discrimination."
“Tonight our families are better for this vote," the governor said. "Our kids have a brighter future for this bill. And our state is better for this bill. I encourage the House to approve this bill and get it to my desk for my signature. I look forward to the day when all Washington citizens have equal opportunity to marry the person they love.”
Opponents, however, have promised to continue the fight. The Stand for Marriage Coalition announced that if the legislature passes gay marriage, it will gather signatures and put a referendum on the ballot to overturn the law this fall.
They would need to collect 120,577 signatures of certified registered voters to force a statewide referendum on the issue in November.
So far, six states and the District of Columbia have legalized same-sex marriage.