Hundreds rally to oppose domestic partnership proposal


Legislation that would expand the partnership protections of homosexual couples in Washington had its first legislative hearing in Olympia Thursday.

A crowd estimated at several hundred converged on the Capitol to protest the bill, which many said was part of a “gay agenda” to move the state of Washington closer to legalizing same-sex marriage. More than 100 people packed the hearing room where the House Judiciary Committee took testimony for over an hour. The majority of those testifying opposed the legislation.

The 110-page measure, referred to as the “everything but marriage” bill, would expand the state’s existing law to provide all the rights and benefits for same-sex couples currently granted only to married heterosexual couples.

Supporters of the proposal (HB 1727), including all six of the Legislature’s openly-gay lawmakers, acknowledge that same-sex marriage is their ultimate goal, and hope that this year’s domestic partnership legislation would move the state closer to a marriage bill in the future.

“It’s not marriage, but it is everything that heterosexual families have currently,” said one of the lead sponsors of the proposal.

Rep. Matt Shea, R-Mead, the assistant ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, challenged the notion that the proposal is “everything but marriage.”

“There is plain language in the bill (section 23, subparagraph 3) that defines ‘married’ to include domestic partnerships. If that is not about marriage, I don’t know what is,” he said.

During the hearing, Shea also took issue with a statement by Mark Johnson, the president-elect of the Washington State Bar Association, that “the legal profession supports this bill.”

“I am concerned that the bar association, a mandatory membership organization, would issue a sweeping political statement that purports to represent the opinion of all its member lawyers,” said Shea, an attorney in private practice in Spokane. “I can say unequivocally that I, and many others in the legal profession, do not support the association’s position on this issue. In fact, that statement of support for the bill underscores concerns that many citizens expressed during the hearing today, that religious liberty and freedom of conscience are endangered by bills like House Bill 1727.”

Faced with a growing budget crisis, a struggling economy and other critical public-policy issues, Shea said the Legislature has more important things to concern itself with than broadening the rights of domestic partners.

“This is not a priority for the citizens of Washington,” said Shea. “I’m sorry we have to spend precious time on it, but I agree with the overwhelming majority of people who support the existing definition of marriage as a union between one man and one woman. I reject, and will fight, efforts by those who are intent on diluting the institution of traditional marriage.”

Two bills have been introduced (HB 1745 and SB 5674) that would extend marriage rights to same-sex couples, but neither measure is expected to win passage this year.

Shea is the sponsor of a proposed constitutional amendment (HJR 4204) that would define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

“I think this is important because the vast majority of Americans support that definition of marriage. Thirty states have passed language defining marriage between a man and a woman in their constitutions. Typically, the amendments have passed with overwhelming approval,” he concluded.

The state Senate held a hearing on a companion bill (SB 5688) Thursday afternoon.

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Washington State House Republican Communications