The Senate had been considered the one chamber that might defeat the bill, but a majority of senators had declared their support for it heading into the Wednesday (Feb. 1) vote. It passed, 28-21, with the support of 24 Democrats and four Republicans. It appears to have the votes for House passage, and Democratic Gov. Christine Gregoire has pledged to sign it.
But opponents could have the final say. If church groups and other traditionally minded organizations can gather about 121,000 valid signatures opposing the law within 90 days of its signing, it will appear on the November ballot. In essence, voters could veto the law.
The state Senate's action was but the latest action nationwide in what figures to be a busy year for both sides of the gay "marriage" debate:
-- Maryland Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley used his State of the State address Wednesday to urge the legislature to pass a gay "marriage" bill, one year after a bill died because it lacked the votes. But, like Washington, voters in Maryland could collect signatures and have the final word.
-- New Jersey's Democratic legislature is scheduled to vote on a gay "marriage" bill in the coming days, but Assembly leaders have only about 34 of the 41 votes needed, Reuters reported. Republican Gov. Chris Christie has vowed a veto if it passes.
SEXUAL LIBERTY VS. RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
O'Malley told Maryland residents that he favors a bill that would protect "religious freedom and civil marriage rights equally." An attorney with the legal group Alliance Defense Fund, though, says that's not possible -- in Maryland, Washington or any state.
"There is an ongoing battle between sexual liberty and religious freedom, and any time that we as a society elevate sexual liberty, religious freedom suffers," ADF attorney Erik Stanley told Baptist Press. "There are numerous ways that that's happening. We've seen it all over the place."
Religious liberty apparently already took a hit in Washington, when an amendment to the bill was defeated that would have protected religious adoption agencies from being forced to place children with same-sex couples or individuals.
There are other religious liberty concerns, though, including what can be taught in public schools about marriage once the state has given its moral approval to gay "marriage." In Massachusetts -- where marriage has been redefined -- a second-grade class read a book, "King & King," about a prince who "marries" another prince.
In Vermont, where gay "marriage" is legal, the ACLU sued a bed and breakfast after it declined to host a same-sex "wedding" reception. Illinois saw a similar lawsuit, when a male couple filed a discrimination suit against two bed and breakfasts that refused to host their civil union ceremony.
The threat in these types of suits, Stanley said, is to "people of faith who want to abide by their convictions and not to do anything to support these types of arrangements or lifestyles."
Chai Feldblum, commissioner of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), was asked in 2006 what would happen when religious liberty and sexual liberty clash.
"Sexual liberty should win in most cases," she said then, when she was a professor at Georgetown University. "There can be a conflict between religious liberty and sexual liberty, but in almost all cases the sexual liberty should win because that's the only way that the dignity of gay people can be affirmed in any realistic manner."
The bill in Washington could pass the House as early as next week, according to The Seattle Times.
Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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