OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — A proposal to legalize gay marriage in Washington state made it out of a final committee and faces its last major obstacle, a crucial vote Wednesday in the state Senate, where it has narrow support.
The bill is expected to pass, though perhaps with the minimum votes required for approval, tension the bill's sponsor Sen. Ed Murray underscored when he cautioned, "Nothing is done until it is actually voted on."
The Senate Rules Committee voted Tuesday to advance the measure for a vote by the full chamber with Lt. Gov. Brad Owen, president of the Senate, saying that he has emphasized tolerance and diversity at state schools for decades, which would make it "hypocritical for me to not support this bill."
"For me, this is not a religious question," said Owen, a Democrat. "It's a legal question."
The committee advanced the bill on a 14-7 vote, with seven of the eight Republicans on the committee in opposition. Sen. Cheryl Pflug, R-Maple Valley, voted to advance it. She is one of two Republican senators who have said they will support the measure.
The Senate vote Wednesday is expected to come in late afternoon or early evening.
It is expected to pass in the Senate with at least 25 votes, the number needed for approval. Five senators, two Democrats and three Republicans, have not indicated how they will vote.
If passed by the Senate, the measure moves to the House, which has enough votes to pass the bill by a more comfortable margin. Also, Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire supports the measure and said she will sign it into law.
Opponents of same-sex marriage have already promised a referendum battle at the ballot if Washington becomes the seventh state to approve gay marriage.
Same-sex marriage is legal in New York, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and the District of Columbia.
Lawmakers in New Jersey and Maryland are expected to debate gay marriage this year, and Maine is likely to see a gay marriage proposal on the November ballot.
A referendum can't be filed until after the bill is passed by the Legislature and signed into law by Gregoire. Opponents then must turn in 120,577 signatures by June 6.
Washington state has had a domestic partnership law since 2007 and an "everything but marriage" expansion of the domestic partnership law since 2009. Gay marriage bills were introduced in both the House and the Senate this year, and received their first public hearings this month.
Lawmakers are in the midst of a 60-day session that is scheduled to end March 8. Senate Majority Leader Mike Hewitt, a Republican from Walla Walla, argued that the marriage discussion has been a distraction from work on closing a projected budget deficit of about $1 billion.
"This is a cooked deal," he said Tuesday. "I'm ready to move on with the budget."
The gay marriage bills are Senate Bill 6239 and House Bill 2516.
Follow Rachel La Corte on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/RachelAPOly