State senator Mary Margaret Haugen has announced that she's in.

Haugen, a Democrat who represents a moderate district including Whidbey Island, cites a recently proposed amendment that will allow for religious entities to deny certain services to same sex couples. And, on a more personal note from her statement, because "my choice is to allow all men and women in our state to enjoy the same privileges that are so important in my life."

Haugen's is the key 25th vote required to push the pivotal marriage equality bill through the Washington State Senate—the house is already secured—and the governor is prepared to sign the bill into law. Please call Senator Haugen to thank her: (360) 786-7618. And while you're at it, call the four undecided senators too and encourage them to join her—one vote is a pretty hard cushion and a few more supporters would help.

Unless something shifts in the weeks before the vote, the larger campaign for marriage equality is on.

Passing the bill will put Washington State on the map as one of the few states to approve marriage equality legislatively. But the real question, assuming religious extremists succeed in placing this on the ballot (and they likely will), is whether Washington voters will make us the first state in history to approve same-sex marriage at the polls.

That's the real challenge. Game on and all that.

Haugen's full statement is after the jump.

“For several weeks now, I have heard from the people of my district. They’ve shared what’s in their hearts and minds.

“I have received many letters, emails, phone calls, very heartfelt, from both sides of the issue. I’ve also received a number of very negative comments from both sides.

“For some people, this is a simple issue. I envy them. It has not been simple or easy for me.

“To some degree, this is generational. 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. None of us knows everything, and it’s important to have our beliefs questioned. Only one being in this world is omniscient, and it’s not me.
“I have very strong Christian beliefs, and personally I have always said when I accepted the Lord, I became more tolerant of others. I stopped judging people and try to live by the Golden Rule. This is part of my decision. I do not believe it is my role to judge others, regardless of my personal beliefs. It’s not always easy to do that. For me personally, I have always believed in traditional marriage between a man and a woman. That is what I believe, to this day.

“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.

“For as long as I have been alive, living in my country has been about having the freedom to live according to our own personal and religious beliefs, and having people respect that freedom.
“Not everyone will agree with my position. I understand and respect that. I also trust that people will remember that we need to respect each other’s beliefs. 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.

“Do I respect people who feel differently? Do I not feel they should have the right to do as they want? My beliefs dictate who I am and how I live, but I don’t see where my believing marriage is between a man and a woman gives me the right to decide that for everyone else.

“I’ve weighed many factors in arriving at this decision, and one of them was erased when the legislation heard today included an amendment to clearly provide for the rights of a church to choose not to marry a couple if that marriage contradicts the church’s view of its teachings. That’s important, and it helped shape my decision.

“My preference would be to put this issue on the ballot and give all Washingtonians the opportunity to wrestle with this issue, to search their hearts as I have, and to make the choice for themselves. But I do not know that there are the votes to put it to a ballot measure. So, forced to make a choice, my choice is to allow all men and women in our state to enjoy the same privileges that are so important in my life. I will vote in favor of marriage equality.

“I know this announcement makes me the so-called 25th vote, the vote that ensures passage. That’s neither here nor there. If I were the first or the seventh or the 28th vote, my position would not be any different. 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.
“This is the right vote and it is the vote I will cast when this measure comes to the floor.”