Politics Slogging Towards a Gay Civil Rights Bill
Today, the Washington State Senate seems likely to pass a law that was first introduced in 1977, the year I was born. Commonly known as “the gay civil rights bill,” it would actually protect more than just gay people: It would prohibit discrimination against heterosexuals, homosexuals, bisexuals, and transgendered people in housing, employment, and financial transactions.
How would it do this? By expanding the list of protected classes in this state. Right now discrimination is prohibited against people based on race, religion, age, gender, or physical disability. This bill would add sexual orientation and gender identity to that list.
Watch with me here, as the senate debates, then votes on, and then likely passes a bill that has led to so much acrimony for nearly 30 years. Debate has just started, with this reminder to the large crowd that has gathered: “No reponses or outbursts will be allowed in response to any action taking place in the senate.”
Ah, but they can’t keep a blogger quiet! Keep checking back, I’ll be posting outbursts throughout the day’s debate.
10:30 a.m. — AH, THE WISDOM OF THE PEOPLE
Something we’ll be hearing a lot about today is what the people of the great State of Washington think about this bill. A conservative senator just got done telling the chamber that 60 percent of Washingtonians oppose this bill. In fact, according to a recent poll conducted by the group Equal Rights Washington, the opposite is true: 60 percent of Washingtonians support the bill, and most voters believe it is already illegal in this state to discriminate against people based on their sexual identity.
10:45 — “THE HOMOSEXUALLY LIFESTYLE”
For a man who just told the senate that he has a lesbian daughter, Senator Bob Oke (R-Port Orchard) doesn’t seem to know much about homosexuality. He kept referring to it as “the homosexually lifestyle.” And then he told the senate how, as a religious man, he won’t allow his daughter and her partner in his home. No mystery how he’ll be voting. Sen. Oke’s great fear, he said, is that tomorrow’s headlines will read: “Senate approves homosexually lifestyle.” I doubt the good senator from Port Orchard will be a happy man tomorrow, but I don’t think he has to worry about that particular headline.
11:00 — REPUBLICAN SEN. FINKBEINER VOTES YES
His voice thick with emotion, Sen. Bill Finkbeiner (R-Redmond) just made it all but certain the bill will pass. He will likely be the only Republican to break ranks and vote with Democrats in support of the bill. And in explaining to his Republican colleagues why he is choosing to do so, he demolished the conservative argument against the proposed legislation.
He began by going through the list of concerns Republicans usually raise about the bill: That it will hurt small businesses (No, Finkbeiner pointed out, the bill exempts businesses with fewer than eight employees); that it will take away the rights of religious organizations (No, Finkbeiner pointed out, religious organizations are exempted from the proposed law); that it will lead to gay marriage (No, Finkbeiner pointed out, it has nothing to do with gay marriage).
Therefore, Finkbeiner said, “What the debate is about is not what’s in the bill. What the debate is about is what we’ve heard today: Whether or not it’s ok to be gay or homsexual in this state. And whether or not it’s ok to discriminate against someone because of that…
“An earlier speaker said: Would you choose this lifestyle for your children? Parents don’t choose this, you don’t choose who you love. The heart chooses who you love. I don’t believe it would be right for us to say it is acceptable to discriminate against people because of who their heart chooses to love. I cannot stand with that argument.…
“I hope that after the passage of this bill that we’ll see that the world continues to turn. But for some people who struggle with this issue, and who struggle with the messages they’re being sent, it will be a better day.”
11:15 — HARSH JUDGMENT
Sen. Brian Weinstein (D-Bellevue) ticked off a list of the 16 states that already have laws banning discrimination based on sexual orientation, including: New York, California, Minnesota, New Mexico, Vermont, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Nevada. “People have said this bill will tear our state apart,” Weinstein said. “It hasn’t torn any of these states apart.” Good point.
And then Weinstein made another interesting point: “Those who vote against this bill now will be judged very harshly by future generations.”
Sen. Alex Deccio (R-Yakima) immediately rose to object, saying Weinstein had unfairly maligned people who will be voting against the bill, in violation of senate rules.
“Senator,” Weinstein responded, rhetorically outmaneuvering Deccio, “I was merely saying that I think future generations will look quite kindly on the people who voted for this bill.”
11:30 — RECOMMENDED READING
If you’re watching live, and have grown tired of the speechifying, there’s an excellent article in today’s Seattle Times that you should check out. It’s by Lornet Turnbull, who I think is one of the best “straight media” reporters in this state on gay rights issues. Today Turnbull explores what’s happened in municipalities in this state that already outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation—an exploration that seems sensible, given the doomsday scenarios that conservatives are painting for this state if the bill passes. Conservatives say that courts are going to be flooded with flimsy lawsuits as a result of the new law, but Turnbull finds that discrimination lawsuits based on sexual orientation are few and far between in places, such as Seattle and Tacoma, that already outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation. She also finds that such lawsuits are extremely difficult to win anyway. One more conservative talking point demolished.
11:36 — VOTING NOW
The senate is doing a roll call vote right now on the bill. Last thing I heard: “Senator Finkbeiner? Aye.”
11:38 — THE BILL PASSES THE SENATE, 25-23
And the chamber erupts in applause.
11:40 — NOW, BACK TO THE HOUSE
Having finally overcome the years-long Republican blockade in the senate, this bill is going to become law. But it has one more hurdle before it fully clears the legislature and can land on Gov. Christine Gregoire’s desk: It has to go back to the house, where legislators need to reapprove the bill because of some language changes that were made in the senate version. There’s no doubt the house will approve the senate’s version of the bill, and quickly. I’ll let you know as soon as it happens.
11:45 — ED MURRAY REACTS
As I noted at the start, this bill was first introduced in 1977, the year I was born. Beginning in 1987 it was championed for eight straight years by the late Sen. Cal Anderson, the state’s first openly gay legislator. (There’s a beautiful park just across the street from The Stranger’s offices on Capitol Hill that is named for Anderson, and during the debate today one senator asked to cast a vote in his honor.) After Anderson died of AIDS in 1995, Rep. Ed Murray (D-Seattle), who happened to have been appointed to the house of representatives that same year, immediately became the bill’s new champion. Murray, who is openly gay, has since introduced the bill 11 times over his legislative career, and is the state legislator most closely associated with this bill, and with gay rights in general.
Anticipating passage by the senate today, I asked Murray last night how it would feel to see the bill finally become law.
“Tomorrow, I’ll be able to say, ‘Promises kept, mission accomplished,’” Murray told me. “And not just to Cal, but to a lot of people I’ve known, who worked on it and went on to other things in their lives. And to a lot of people who are dead…
“When it passes, no matter what happens, there is no turning back. There is no taking away from this moment. A group of elected legislators, many of whom it’s a tough road for, did the courageous thing and legislated that discrimination against gays and lesbians and transgendered people is wrong. And nothing will take away from that, no matter what they try.”
12:00 — MURRAY SPEAKING NOW IN THE HOUSE
In advance of the final house vote on the bill.
12:06 — THE GAY CIVIL RIGHTS BILL PASSES THE HOUSE, 63 - 37, CLEARING THE LEGISLATURE. NEXT STOP: THE GOVERNOR’S DESK…
Applause, longer and louder than in the senate. And a reminder, from Ed Murray, that in some ways, the legislators in Olympia are behind much of the rest of the state in coming to realize the importance of this issue.
“I want to thank you for recognizing that for some gay and lesbian people, discrimination is a reality,” he told the chamber, just before the vote. “Within the lifetime of everyone in this room, it was for all gay and lesbian people.”
He continued: “You have proved that democracy works… For some of us, and I think for the whole state, it’s a new dawn.”
12:45 — CELEBRATION TIME
From Equal Rights Washington, a list of celebrations being held around the state tonight in honor of the bill’s passage:
Bellingham: 5 PM at Taco Lobo, 117 W Magnolia Street
Kitsap County: 6:30 PM at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Bremerton
Olympia: 5 PM at Plenty’s Restaurant, Downtown Olympia
Seattle: 6 PM at Paramount Theatre, 911 Pine Street
Spokane: 6 PM at Rainbow Regional Community Center, 508 West 2nd Avenue
Tacoma: 5:30 PM at Tempest, 913 MLK
Tri-Cities: 6 PM at Center for Positive Living, 210 East 3rd Avenue, Kennewick
Wenatchee: 7:30 PM Saturday at Cellar Cafe (SHINE Event), 246 N Mission Street
Yakima: 6 PM at Rainbow Cathedral MCC, 225 North 2nd; 7 PM at First Street Conference Center, 223 North 1st Street
12:50 — NATIONAL REACTION
The National Gay and Lesbian Taskforce “hails” Washington’s legislators, and notes:
48% of the nation’s population will now be protected by sexual orientation non- discrimination laws
Over at Americablog, John Aravosis, who last year orchestrated the backlash against Microsoft’s decision not to support the bill, writes:
Amazing. This is truly amazing, and decades in coming. You’ll recall this was the bill that got killed last year after Microsoft pulled its support. Well, this year Microsoft didn’t just support the bill, but the local Republican rep from Redmond (Microsoft’s home) changed his vote from a no to a yes, and the bill passed 25-23 in the state Senate today.
This is really great news. And kudos to all those in Washington state who have fought for so long - decades, really - to get this passed. And thanks to Microsoft and all the other companies who publicly supported the legislation as good for business and good for America.
There’s hope yet for our country.
1:35 — GREGOIRE WILL SIGN THE BILL INTO LAW ON TUESDAY
Lars Erickson, a spokesman for Gov. Christine Gregoire, said she plans to sign the bill into law on Tuesday at 10 a.m.
“She’s very excited about it, and very happy that she’s going to have the opportunity to sign the bill next week,” he said.
I asked what Gregoire thinks about the Tim Eyman initiative that could potentially moot the new law, and Erickson replied:
“She’s fought for these measures, and she will fight against any measure to repeal this great victory.”