As business endorsements give gay-marriage legislation a lift, another Washington state senator announces his support, leaving the Senate just one vote short of passing the gay-marriage bill.
OLYMPIA — Microsoft and five other companies endorsed legislation to legalize gay marriage in Washington Thursday, while a state senator who once opposed same-sex marriage said he now supports it.
The announcement by state Sen. Jim Kastama, D-Puyallup, leaves the Senate just one vote short of passing the gay-marriage bill. And the backing by Microsoft, Vulcan, Nike, RealNetworks, Group Health Cooperative and Concur provides momentum as lawmakers prepare for hearings next week on the issue.
Still, Sen. Ed Murray, the bill’s sponsor in the Senate, isn’t declaring victory.
“It’s a significant step. But having lived through trying to find that last vote on the gay- and lesbian civil-rights bill, I am not yet ready to celebrate,” said Murray, referring to gay-rights legislation that failed by one vote in 2005 in the Senate.
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Kastama’s support means there are 24 state senators — 22 Democrats and two Republicans — who have said they’ll vote for Senate Bill 6239. That’s one short of the 25 needed for passage.
The state House already has enough lawmakers in support of the measure to approve it. Gov. Chris Gregoire backs the bill as well.
There’s a small pool of undecided votes left in the Senate.
State Sens. Andy Hill, R-Redmond; Joe Fain, R-Auburn; Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island; 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, has declined to comment, but records show he’s voted against every gay-rights bill that’s come up for a vote in the past.
Kastama voted in 1998 for the state Defense of Marriage Act that bans gay marriage in Washington. In more recent years, he has supported civil rights and domestic partnerships for same-sex couples.
He called his decision on gay marriage “a deeply personal one.”
“Unlike some of my colleagues in liberal districts, I will not return home to cheers and handshakes,” said Kastama, who represents the 25th Legislative District and is running for the statewide office of Secretary of State.
“My district has known me my whole life and for 16 years has entrusted me to be a fiercely independent legislator,” he said. “The people of my district are generous and decent, but I also know that there are childhood friends who will never forgive me for this vote.”
Still, Kastama said he concluded it’s time to legalize same-sex marriage and he hopes his decision will help convince other lawmakers to support the legislation as well.
Word of the endorsement letter from major businesses came just before Kastama announced his decision.
As letters of support go, it’s very short: “We write you today to show the support of our respective companies for SB 6239 and HB 2516 recognizing marriage equality for same-sex couples.”
Addressed to Gregoire, it was signed by executives from Microsoft, Vulcan, Nike, RealNetworks, Group Health Cooperative and Concur, an online travel and expense-management firm.
Microsoft created a flap in 2005 when it said it was neutral on the initial gay-rights legislation that later failed in the Senate by one vote. After heavy criticism, the company later changed its position and endorsed the legislation — which passed in 2006 — as well as subsequent domestic-partnerships bills.
The company last week said it was reviewing the legislation and had not decided whether to take a position.
Microsoft issued a follow-up statement on Thursday to explain its decision, saying in part, “as other states recognize marriage equality, Washington’s employers are at a disadvantage if we cannot offer a similar, equitable and inclusive environment to our talented employees, our top recruits and their families.”
Rep. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, said the companies’ support “is very important” and hopes it could help sway Sens. Fain and Hill, who represent King County swing districts that have gone back and forth between Democrats and Republicans.
Hearings on gay-marriage legislation are scheduled for Monday in both the House and Senate.
Meanwhile, Joseph Backholm, executive director of the Family Policy Institute of Washington, said Microsoft and other companies caved to what he called the bullying tactics of the pro-same-sex-marriage camp.
“I think it’s totally inappropriate for a company to take this position,” he said. “They are a software company, not a PAC, and the only reason they take a position and essentially stick a finger in the eye of their customers is that they think life would be too miserable if they don’t.”
Backholm, who is part of a loosely formed religious conservative coalition to defeat same-sex marriage in the state, said he was also disappointed in Kastama’s decision to support the legislation.
Staff reporter Lornet Turnbull contributed to this story.
Andrew Garber: 360-236-8266 or email@example.com