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Washington Approves Gay Rights Bill

The measure would make the state the 17th in the nation to ban bias against homosexuals.

January 28, 2006|Sam Howe Verhovek | Times Staff Writer

SEATTLE — Nearly 30 years after it was first proposed, a measure banning discrimination against gays and lesbians was approved Friday by the Washington state Legislature.

The bill would add "sexual orientation" to the state's anti-bias categories but would not alter a law prohibiting same-sex marriage.

The Democratic lawmaker who sponsored the measure called its passage a "moment of joy." A Republican colleague who led the opposition said the bill would "trample religious freedom for those who believe homosexuality is wrong."

The state's highest court is considering a constitutional challenge to the Legislature's 1998 Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman. A ruling is expected in that case in several weeks.

Approval of the anti-discrimination bill came after an emotional debate in the state Senate, where one Republican switched his vote and joined 24 Democrats to pass the bill, 25 to 23. The House approved it 61 to 37.

"We don't choose who we love -- the heart chooses who we will love," said Republican Sen. Bill Finkbeiner, who represents a suburban Seattle district. "And I don't believe that it is right for us to say ... that it's acceptable to discriminate against people because of that."

Democratic Gov. Christine Gregoire said she would sign the bill into law Tuesday, making Washington the 17th state to ban bias against gays and lesbians in housing, employment and insurance; it will be the seventh state to ban discrimination against transgender people, according to the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights group.

California has had a law banning discrimination against gays since 1992.

Rep. Edward Murray -- a Seattle Democrat and chief sponsor of the measure who is one of four openly gay lawmakers in the Legislature -- said passage of the bill represented "a new day" for the state.

The bill was endorsed this week by several major state employers, including Boeing Co. and Microsoft Corp. Controversy flared briefly last year when Microsoft removed the bill from its list of legislative priorities; the software giant restored it after protests from gay employees and others.

While Senate Democrats described their support for the measure, several Republicans denounced it. GOP Sen. Bob Oke said his daughter is a lesbian, but that he was exhibiting "tough love" by voting against the bill and reiterating his belief that homosexuality is "morally wrong."

Republican Sen. Dan Swecker said: "Passage of this legislation puts us on a slippery slope toward gay marriage." He added: "Are any of us naive enough to think the court won't take notice?"

Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said the Washington law showed that "time and momentum are on our side" in gay rights issues, including marriage.

But some religious conservatives said they were appalled by the Legislature's vote.

"We should not call this a civil rights law," said the Rev. Joseph Fuiten, chairman of Faith and Freedom Network, a lobbying group in the state . "Rather, it will become known as the law of unintended consequences. When fifth-graders in school have to learn about homosexual sex to be able to keep from discriminating against homosexuals, we will have reaped our reward."

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