Domestic Partnership bill builds momentum through House
Domestic Partnership bill builds momentum through House
by Nick Ardizzone - SGN Staff Writer

The Domestic Partnership Expansion bill introduced by Senator Ed Murray and State Representative Jamie Pedersen on January 22 continued its passage through the House this week and shows no sign of stopping. The bill - which will help provide security for domestic partnerships by extending rights in areas of property and finance as well as granting several benefits - successfully passed out of the House Judiciary Committee on January 30 and out of the House Finance Committee on February 6. The bill's progress, largely unimpeded by opposition, will continue as it most likely faces a vote for final passage in the House today. The Seattle Gay News interviewed Rep. Pedersen on Valentine's Day about the bill's unexpectedly calm reception and the power of community support.

Pedersen is enthusiastic about the bill's progress. "We're probably going to caucus on it [Thursday] and then we'll vote on it down in the House [Friday]," he said.

"It has been almost eerily smooth so far," he said. "We had a great hearing in the House Judiciary Committee & it passed out with very little fuss & then it went to the House Finance Committee, and if anything it was an even more positive hearing - the Republicans didn't say anything."

The only action Republicans have taken against the bill so far has been an attempt to amend the bill by adding a tenth section which states the legislature confirms marriage is a sacred union between one man and one woman. "It'll either be ruled out of order or be defeated," Pedersen said dismissively. "It's not going to be confirmed."

There have been few technical clarifications to the bill since its inception. Inter-state enforcement of alimony and child support had to be reworded slightly and was essentially corrected in an amendment.

Pedersen has been overwhelmed by the community support the bill has received. "I'd like to say 'thank you' to everybody for all the support we've had," he said. "Just in our little office we've had over 500 pieces of mail on this issue. We've had an incredible outpouring of mail to legislators."

"Some of them are like, 'Stop the e-mails already!'" he adds, laughing. "My colleagues - even people from pretty difficult districts - tell me that they've had a fair amount of mail in favor of the bill, and none to speak of in opposition."

When asked to hazard a guess as to the lack of opposition, Pedersen feels the community's unity is the major factor. "I think [those who oppose the bill] are probably looking at the same polling numbers we are, and they realize that this bill is very solidly occupying the middle of public opinion," he said. "There are very few people who think that it's right to deny same-sex couples & access to these rights and obligations."

Encouraged by the welcome the latest bill has received, Pedersen believes that harnessing the bill's steady momentum is the key strategy to getting more expansions through - expansions which will, he hopes, ultimately lead to Gay marriage. "I think that as long as we keep doing incremental improvements to the domestic partner registry & the opposition is just going to dissolve," he said. "People just get more and more comfortable. & When we get to the point of talking about marriage and making a serious push for marriage, I think that the other side will really wake up and be very strident [and] that'll be a much harder step."

To prepare for that step, Pedersen asks the community not to lose its spirit. "It's been great, how engaged people are & I don't think we need a lot more help to get this package through, but if people are serious about wanting us to move quickly to marriage, our biggest challenge is & to make sure we've got the right people in office."

"People need to get off their butts and get involved in the Governor's re-election campaign," he suggested. "Pick a legislative race to support where there's either danger that we would lose someone, or where we have a chance to pick up a seat."

"Then, start talking to people outside of Seattle."

With a strong enough base, Pedersen believes Washington could win marriage equality in the next few years - but only by reaching outside of the immediate community.

"Ultimately, when we do pull the trigger here in legislature and are ready to go, the problem is going to be that there will be a referendum challenge," Pedersen said. "We need to be able to battle that back, and we do that by changing minds in the general public."

"I think time is definitely on our side," he said. "It's just a matter of trying to balance it so we don't get out ahead of our skis on the one hand, but on the other hand, we don't keep people waiting too long who are really in need of the protections that marriage would offer."