The state Senate is just two votes shy of making Washington the seventh state to approve gay marriage.
OLYMPIA — Only two votes in the state Senate stand in the way of legalizing gay marriage in Washington, but approval is anything but sure.
“I spent 11 years trying to find one vote for the civil-rights bill,” said state Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, referring to the landmark gay-rights legislation narrowly approved by the Senate in 2006.
The path for gay marriage in the House appears clear. Legislation sponsored by Rep. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, was introduced there Friday with 50 signatures, the number of votes needed to approve the measure.
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But an identical bill sponsored by Murray in the Senate had 23 signatures. He needs 25, and there’s a shrinking pool of undecided votes left.
State Sens. Andy Hill, R-Redmond; Joe Fain, R-Auburn; Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island; Jim Kastama, D-Puyallup; Paull Shin, D-Edmonds, and Brian Hatfield, D-Raymond, are uncommitted, according to the lawmakers or members of their staffs.
Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, declined to comment, but records show he’s voted against every gay-rights bill that’s come up for a vote in the past.
In addition, it’s not clear if Microsoft will lend its support to the measure. Murray considers the company’s endorsement “very important.”
Company officials are reviewing the legislation but have not decided whether to take a position, said Jeff Reading, a spokesman for the company.
Microsoft created a flap in 2005 when said it was neutral on the initial gay-rights legislation. It failed in the Senate by one vote that year. After heavy criticism, the company later changed its position and endorsed the legislation, as well as subsequent bills, including domestic partnerships for same-sex couples.
Murray said he’s talking with Microsoft and other companies about the gay-marriage bill. “I’m hopeful,” he said.
For now, attention is zeroing in on the remaining undecided votes, such as Hatfield’s.
He sat for an interview in the Senate wings on Friday as lawmakers concluded their business for the week and trickled out of the Statehouse.
“For a number of legislators, (the gay-marriage vote) is not that big of a deal based on their districts, based on their social circle and everything. For me, it is a loser,” Hatfield said. “It’s a loser no matter what.”
The senator says he has good friends on both sides of the issue, and he worries about what a no or yes vote could do to those relationships.
Hatfield also said he struggles with the fact the majority of his district voted against Referendum 71, the so-called “everything but marriage” law. The measure was approved by voters statewide.
“It’s not a clear, black-and-white issue as a lot of people on both sides believe it is,” he said.
Hatfield said he would prefer that gay marriage be put on the ballot. If it comes to an up-or-down vote on the law in the Senate, he said he’s not sure what he’ll do.
Murray has insisted he will not support adding a referendum clause to the bill, saying minority rights should not be decided at the ballot.
Hearings on the bills are scheduled for Jan. 23 in the House and Senate.
Joseph Backholm, executive director of The Family Policy Institute of Washington, said he expects thousands of people to show up in opposition.
“The idea that there is no difference between a heterosexual relationship and a homosexual relationship and that the law should recognize no difference, assumes there is no difference between men and women,” he said. “This would be the state taking a position and saying, ‘We will no longer encourage arrangements that will give children both a mother and father.’ “
One opponent has filed an initiative seeking to clarify the definition of marriage.
On Monday, Everett attorney Stephen Pidgeon filed a proposed ballot initiative that seeks to change the state statute, which says marriage is a civil contract between a male and a female.
Pidgeon previously worked with groups that unsuccessfully tried to overturn the state’s domestic-partnership law. He wants marriage to be defined as being “between one man and one woman.”
Backholm declined to comment on whether his group was supportive of, or working with, Pidgeon on the initiative.
To qualify for the November ballot, sponsors of the latest initiative must submit at least 241,153 valid signatures of registered voters by July 6.
Same-sex marriage is legal in New York, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and the District of Columbia.
Material from The Associated Press is included in this story.
Andrew Garber: 360-236-8266 or firstname.lastname@example.org