Thursday, July 27, 2006

Deep Breath in Olympia Legislature

The mountains out West sure are tall by our standards. The climb to equal marriage rights looks particularly steep after yesterday's Washington Supreme Court ruling that DOMA was legit there.

Underneath the affirmation of the legislature's power to create a one-man/one-woman law, the court in both main decisions and dissents suggested that it was time for the state legislature to make marriage inclusive there.

Both pro-same-sex-marriage and that other side had a full 16 months following the the arguments to prepare. The 5 to 4 split could have gone the other way. So, everyone seems to have had contingencies.

Of moment are the drives:
  1. Pro-SSM forces have already begun plans to approach equal marriage legislatively.
  2. Democrats and progressives look to this to rally the good guys and beef up their legislative voting margins following the fall elections.

To the State House

Lefty voters and lawmakers are too, too aware that it took 30 years to pass gay-rights in the state, and that only by a single vote. The question now is must citizens repeat such a trek or has the legislative season changed?

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown said following the court ruling that she expected legislative proposals from all sides next term. However, the Spokane Democrat added, "I think it will be some time before we'll see any decisive move in the Legislature away from the status quo."

An anti-gay/anti-SSM leader is ready to start his own climb. Gary Randall, president of Faith and Freedom Network said he favors yet another ballot initiative, this one for an anti-SSM constitutional amendment. Ironically, his group alleges to be all about liberty for Americans.

Brown and Speaker of the House Frank Chopp read prepared statements after the ruling. They each said that they speak with their colleagues. They can likely expect pro-SSM support from Governor Chris Gregoire, an active gay-rights advocate.

The tepid, poll-the-lawmakers attitude characterizes the patient Washington legislature. It has not been as inert as the Massachusetts one, which could have legislated the SSM issue at many point before it became a crisis and after the Goodridge decision. Yet, in Olympia, no one seems to have the East Coast expedience.

In Seattle, The Stranger's Eli Sanders does a nice wrap-up of the decision and quick quotes from politicians. His reportage includes:
  • King County Executive Ron Sims, called the ruling an "unwise decision...If the legislature does not make changes first, I firmly believe that a future court will take up this issue again. And on that day, a wiser and more enlightened generation will overturn this ruling."
  • King County Deputy Prosecutor Bill Sherman, said he was “deeply disappointed” and that if he wins his legislative election this fall will fight “full marriage equality for same-sex couples” if he is elected." Sanders adds, "Expect every other candidate in this race for State Rep. Ed Murray’s House seat to do the same."
  • Gregoire did the politician's two-step on this. Sanders concludes that she favors civil unions through legislation. She said citizens had to accept the court decision. She noted her sacramental Roman Catholic marriage, but added, "As Governor, I do not believe the state should discriminate against any citizen. I also believe that personal religious beliefs are protected by our Constitution... I believe the state should provide these same rights and responsibilities to all citizens. I also believe the sacrament of marriage is between two people and their faith; it is not the business of the state."

Fall Fray

A follow-up article in the Post-Intelligencer brought the slant of how this might affect the fall election. It starts:
The state Supreme Court ruling upholding Washington's ban on same-sex marriages comes as a crushing blow to the gay community, but it's a best-case scenario for Democrats hoping to broaden their majority in the Legislature this fall.

In response to Wednesday's decision, Democrats can neatly tailor legislative proposals to suit individual constituencies, including those that want to allow gay marriage, maintain the status quo or build on the politically expedient middle ground that civil unions represent.

And, most important, they don't have to act on any of those proposals until after the November election.

It also states that is robs "Republicans of a powerful wedge issue." No radical homosexual agenda to rally voters means some other divisive issue must materialize.

The analysis also said that the "ruling frees Democrats to invest more in new candidates and reduces the amount they would have to invest to defend incumbents." This can be crucial in swing districts there. While Dems have a 55 to 43 edge in the House, they are only three up in the Senate 26 to 23. Also, as in Massachusetts, there are Democrats, Democrats and Democrats, with some lumbering DINOs muddling affiliations.

National Long Views: The New York Times tries to put some perspective on the recent decisions:
Legal scholars said the closeness of the Washington and New York decisions suggested that the legal status of same-sex marriages would remain unsettled and controversial. That alone, they said, represents a significant change in public and judicial attitudes.

When the Washington courts last addressed the question of same-sex marriage in 1974, by contrast, an appeals court unanimously voted against the plaintiffs and the State Supreme Court refused to hear the case.

"You've gone in 32 years from something that was more or less a slam dunk to where the court is almost evenly and very bitterly divided," said William B. Rubenstein, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, and author of "Sexual Orientation and the Law." "The issue is in play."

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