This story has been updated to note that senators Jim Kastama and Mary Margaret Haugen, who were undecided, announced they would support a marriage-equality bill. Unless one of the state senators withdraws their support before the vote, the bill now has the votes to pass.
Within the next few months, Washington could become the seventh state to legalize same-sex marriage—if just a few more votes can be found in the state legislature.
House Speaker Frank Chopp says he has the necessary votes to move a marriage-equality bill out of his chamber. "I believe the measure will pass the house," Chopp told The Stranger on January 12. But over in the senate—which, just like the house, is controlled by Democrats—it's a different story. Over in that chamber, the entire marriage-equality push could collapse.
State senator Ed Murray (D-43), who introduced the bill on January 13, says it's a nail-biter. "I think we have a very good chance," Murray says. "But we are not there yet. We could lose. There are a handful of votes we still need."
In other words, just a few hand-wringing state senators stand between marriage equality and no marriage equality.
Here's the hard math that's creating the cliff-hanger: Getting a marriage bill out of the senate will require 25 votes. But right now, according to a Stranger tally, there are only 24 reliable "yes" votes in the senate. Of those, 22 of them are Democrats and two of them are Republicans who only very recently came out in favor of marriage equality (Senator Steve Litzow of Mercer Island and Senator Cheryl Pflug of Maple Valley—big ups!).
Meanwhile, 20 senators are sure to vote "no" on same-sex marriage, including two anti-marriage Democrats who have long opposed full civil equality for gays and lesbians (Tim Sheldon of Kitsap County and James Hargrove of the Olympic Peninsula—booooo!).
In a chamber of 49 senators, that leaves six votes still in play—more than enough to get to 25 "yes" votes, but only if at least two of the undecided senators come aboard.
Here are the senators who are playing hard-to-get, along with how to reach out and push them—hard.
Mary Margaret Haugen, D-10
At a recent appearance at a Whidbey Island senior center, Senator Mary Margaret Haugen was confronted by a roomful of aging constituents over her squirrelly nonposition on marriage equality. "I'm listening to all sides and keeping an open mind," Haugen said in a statement afterward, explaining that she is currently undecided. "I feel the best option is to send it to the voters on a referendum, but I'm still hearing from constituents and I want them to have full opportunity to make their views known." Here's what's so maddeningly squirrelly about this: No one's talking about denying Washingtonians the right to vote on marriage equality. In fact, if marriage equality passes the legislature this year, irate, knuckle-dragging religious conservatives are certain to put the issue up for a vote of the people in November by running a referendum. The question right now: Where does Haugen, 70, stand? She voted for the historic "everything but marriage" domestic partnership bill in 2009. She's almost there for marriage. But not quite—not yet.
Haugen announced on January 23 that she would vote for the bill.
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Jim Kastama, D-25
Born in Puyallup, raised by a corrections officer and a school nurse, and educated at Berkeley, Jim Kastama, 52, now represents southeast Tacoma (an area that has two Republicans representing it in the house). He voted for "everything but marriage" in 2009, but this year he's running for secretary of state—meaning he's an amazing combination of ambitious and dull. Political calculations may be making him reluctant to take a "controversial" stance on a progressive cause, but of course he wants to appear to have some sort of spine. So at present he's talking about what a good listener he can be, what a good listener he always is—everything except how he'll vote on marriage equality. "I will listen to all sides," Kastama tells The Stranger, "as I always do." Come on, Kastama: How would Berkeley vote?
On January 19 Kastama came out in favor in marriage equality.
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Joe Fain, R-47
This 31-year-old senator represents the Auburn, Covington, and Black Diamond areas southeast of Seattle. (And what does a 31-year-old guy do late at night in Auburn? Stay up undecided, apparently.) Silver lining: While Fain's territory is not the most liberal in the state, it's hardly the most conservative, either. Elected in 2010, he's never had to vote on any of the domestic-partnership bills that passed from 2007 to 2009, so his position on rights for same-sex couples is untested. Which means there's hope. Fain got his start in politics as a staffer at the King County Council, and he styles himself as a moderate Republican in the mold of King County Council member Reagan Dunn. Worth mentioning to Fain: Dunn recently came out in favor of marriage equality. (Also worth mentioning: Being a 31-year-old against marriage equality is demographic treason.)
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Brian Hatfield, D-19
Hatfield is a Democrat, true, but he represents the conservative southwest Washington areas surrounding Long Beach and Westport, as well as the city of Longview. He was one of the few Democrats to vote against "everything but marriage" in 2009. On the other hand, Hatfield, 45, potentially has quite a few years of public service ahead of him—a long time to be known as the guy who was on the wrong side of history. (And guys on the wrong side of history never get out of Longview, Brian.) You'd think that would be convincing enough, but apparently he still needs some convincing.
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Andy Hill, R-45
This 49-year-old, lung-cancer surviving, Harvard-educated former Microsoft program manager represents Micro-soft's Eastside district. To give you an idea of just how moderate his constituents are: Lefty drug reformer Roger Goodman represents them in the house. (Goodman is a guaranteed yes vote and isn't afraid of any push-back when he runs for reelection this year.) So if Hill knows what's good for him, he'll vote yes. But as of now, he's hunkered down, vascillating—dirty!—at some undisclosed Redmond-area location.
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Paull Shin, D-21
"He hasn't made any public statement on whether he is for or against it," Shin's office tells The Stranger. "He's weighing in with the constituents." The rumored issue for the man who represents Edmonds and voted no on "everything but marriage" in 2009: his Mormon faith. Not an issue, but weird to people who don't know about his remarkable backstory: Shin, 76, spells his first name with two Ls. (But hey, who is the LGBTQITSLFA community to judge? Look, something in common already!)
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