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In Washington A Long-Term Strategy To Legalize Gay Marriage

Gay rights advocates in Washington have a bold goal: legalize same-sex marriage within a decade. But behind-the-scenes there’s a debate over how to achieve that goal.

The current strategy is to take incremental steps each year. But some in the gay community would like to see a more direct approach.

Meanwhile one vocal opponent of gay marriage wants to mobilize now. Olympia correspondent Austin Jenkins reports.

Recently at the state capitol, openly gay members of the Washington legislature and their supporters staged a news conference.

Ed Murray: “Are we ready? Welcome, good morning.”

They unveiled legislation that would broaden Washington’s new domestic partnership law. The law is not marriage but provides some of the rights and responsibilities that married couples enjoy.

Speaker after speaker at the news conference made it clear: domestic partnerships are only a stopgap.

Ed Murray: “The only true financial security for families is not domestic partnership, but ultimately it is marriage.”

Watts: “This is a very important next step for us in our path towards full marriage equality.”

Pederson: “All Washington families deserve not only this financial security, but equal protection.”

This is the strategy for winning gay marriage in Washington. Pursue incremental change but talk frankly and frequently about the ultimate goal.

State Senator Ed Murray, an openly gay Seattle Democrat, is a key architect of this approach. He says gay rights advocates are borrowing a page from the civil rights movement.

Ed Murray: “Thurgood Marshall had an incremental approach. Let’s start with pieces of this and work our way forward because we have to bring people along.”

But this step-by-step path to win gay marriage concerns Bill Dubay, a longtime gay activist in Seattle. He worries domestic partnerships will undermine the case for full marriage.

Bill Dubay: “You know we fought for what 30 years for a civil rights bill, a gay civil rights bill, and we introduced it every year and some years it didn’t even get a hearing. But at least when we got around to passing it we had a record of always being there on the issue and I think that’s what we should be doing now.”

Senator Murray already has a same-sex marriage bill drafted. But he defends the decision not to introduce it – even to get a discussion going.

Ed Murray: “We have to have a conversation with the citizens of this state and with the legislators in this building about who we are. And I think that conversation will lead us to marriage. I think if we simply brought a marriage bill out today we would end up in a culture war about marriage.”

Unlike in Washington, the battle over gay marriage in Oregon is more legal than political.

A 2004 constitutional amendment banning gay marriage is under court challenge. As is the state’s new Domestic Partnership law which provides many more benefits than Washington’s.

Jeana Frazzini with Basic Rights Oregon is focused on the court fight.

Jeana Frazzini: “We’re very clear that our ultimate goal is full marriage equality. But working within the reality politically that we have here in Oregon we need to do what can in the near term to give caring, committed same sex couples as much support and protection under the law as we can.”

Back in Washington, opponents of gay marriage have been largely silent in recent years. Dr. Ken Hutcherson of Antioch Bible Church admonishes opponents to wake up. He warns if they don’t a gay marriage law could pass in Washington.

Ken Hutcherson: “Our stand that we have taken for thousands of years on these biblical issues are being trampled by one step at a time and you’re sitting there like frogs sitting in the boiling water and enjoying and thinking you’re in a Jacuzzi.”

With Democrats in control, the expanded domestic partnership bills in Washington are likely to pass this session. It will be another step in Senator Ed Murray’s plan to legalize gay marriage within a decade.