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Haugen, Stevens on opposite sides of gay marriage bill

OLYMPIA — Two state Legislators representing the local area have come out on opposite sides of a proposed law that would allow same-sex marriages in Washington.

State Sen Mary Margaret Haugen of the 10th District went from being the Democrats' remaining holdout to becoming the 25th vote needed to pass Senate Bill 6239 on Monday, Jan. 23.

Haugen noted that she'd received a number of letters, emails and phone calls from supporters and opponents of the bill, which had posed a complicated decision for her.

"To some degree, this is generational," Haugen said. "Years ago, I took exception to my parents' beliefs on certain social issues, and today my children take exception to some of mine. Times change, even if it makes us uncomfortable. I think we should all be uncomfortable sometime."

Haugen attributed her tolerance of others to her strong Christian beliefs, which she credited with motivating her to be less judgmental, even of those whose definitions of marriage differ from her own.

"For me personally, I have always believed in traditional marriage between a man and a woman," Haugen said. "But this issue isn't about just what I believe. It's about respecting others, including people who may believe differently than I. It's about whether everyone has the same opportunities for love and companionship and family and security that I have enjoyed."

Haugen identified the freedom to live according to one's own personal and religious beliefs as part of the American way, even though she acknowledged that many people would differ with her opinion.

"I also trust that people will remember that we need to respect each other's beliefs," Haugen said. "All of us enjoy the benefits of being Americans, but none of us holds a monopoly on what it means to be an American. Ours is truly a big tent, and while the tent may grow and shrink according to the political winds of the day, it should never shrink when it comes to our rights as individuals."

One of Haugen's reservations, which had previously made her undecided in this matter, was eliminated once the bill included an amendment which would allow a church the right not to marry a couple if that marriage contradicts the church's position. Although her ultimate preference would be to put this issue on the ballot for the voters of the state to decide, she acknowledged that there might not be the votes to put it to a ballot measure. She declared that the role of her vote as the one that ensures the bill's passage was irrelevant to her decision.

"If I were the first or the seventh or the 28th vote, my position would not be any different," Haugen said. "I happen to be the 25th because I insisted on taking this much time to hear from my constituents and to sort it out for myself, to reconcile my religious beliefs with my beliefs as an American, as a legislator, and as a wife and mother who cannot deny to others the joys and benefits I enjoy."

State Sen. Val Stevens of Arlington, a Republican representing the 39th District, argued that this bill would do away with the purpose and benefit of traditional marriage.

"Marriage attaches mothers and fathers to their children and to one another," Stevens said. "If homosexual marriage becomes law, our state will have discarded the tradition that a child needs a mother and a father."

Stevens alluded to "mountains of data" attesting to the importance of children being raised by their own mothers and fathers. Although she took care to acknowledge that homosexuals are not responsible for current generations of "fatherless and motherless children," she warned that legislation such as Senate Bill 6239 could be responsible for generations to come.

"Two years ago, sponsors of the legislation to create domestic partnerships stated marriage was not their goal, and that they only wanted the same rights as traditionally married couples," Stevens said. "Apparently they are no longer content to have the changes they insisted they needed. Now they want to distort traditional marriage. This bill is not about policy. It's about breaking down moral and religious standards."

Stevens decried what she deemed as examples of discrimination in the states that have legalized same-sex marriage, including a county clerk in New York who lost her job for refusing to sign a same-sex marriage license, and a Methodist church in New Jersey that was stripped of its tax-exempt status and sued for discrimination for not renting out its facilities for a lesbian civil-union ceremony.

"The proponents of this bill claim that won’t happen here," Stevens said. "Should this legislation become law, will they rush to the defense of people in our state who nonetheless find themselves under attack? The costs of this bill to our society, as well as to our religious rights, are too high."

Stevens pledged to continue speaking out in support of defining marriage as between one man and one woman.

Senate Bill 6239 passed the Senate Government Operations and Elections Committee by a 4-3 party-line vote on Thursday, Jan. 26, that rejected all four Republican amendments to provide additional protections for clergy, religious groups and businesses that choose not to provide services related to same-sex marriages.

The bill's next step is the Senate Rules Committee, followed by a Senate floor vote that could take place within a week.

State Attorney General Rob McKenna, Republican candidate for governor, has pledged that he would vote to repeal same-sex marriage legislation if it appears on the ballot this November.

Although McKenna promised to maintain the existing domestic partnership law, he shares Stevens' commitment to preserving the state law defining marriage as between one man and one woman.

U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee, Democratic candidate for governor, supports the same-sex marriage legislation and vowed to fight against its repeal.

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