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Originally published January 30, 2012 at 4:00 PM | Page modified February 6, 2012 at 11:52 AM

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Legislature should vote for same-sex marriage, not leave question up to voters

The rights of minorities should not be subject to whims of majorities, which is what happens when such choices are offered to voters. The Washington Legislature should vote for same-sex marriage without a referendum requiring a public vote.

Seattle Times Editorial

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THE idea of requiring a public vote on a bill legalizing same-sex marriage has surfaced in Olympia. This is the halfhearted approach. Lawmakers should vote for a clean bill.

Slapping a referendum on the legislation is another way of saying, "We should probably legalize gay marriage, but maybe the public should cover us in case we are making a mistake."

Gay marriage is about fairness and equality for all Washington's families. It is the civil-rights issue of our time and requires persistence and unfail-ing courage.

Rights of minorities should not be subject to whims of majorities, which is what happens when this is offered to voters.

Last week, state Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, took a bold stance and said, while she preferred a public vote, she would vote for same-sex marriage in Olympia. If she has second thoughts about a referendum, she should go with the decision to support a bill without a public vote. We elect leaders to make tough decisions, not turn to voters every time legislation is challenging.

Yet, because the vote is so close — Haugen is the 25th and final vote needed in the Senate — others representing districts that favor gay marriage should join the majority.

What about state Sen Paull Shin, D-Edmonds? Has he reviewed the data on the 2009 vote on gay rights. His district was solidly in favor. Constituents of state Sen. Andy Hill, R-Redmond, should give him a quick call. His district is near Microsoft and includes many of its employees. The company announced support for the bill a few days ago. Hill's constituents voted strongly to ensure domestic-partnership rights in 2009.

Legalizing gay marriage is no easy vote. Haugen was emotional about her decision. Hill and Shin may have a tough time, too.

The public should respect all of them for tackling this issue. In the end, Washington is a live-and-let-live kind of place. When people around the country discover that six states have already legalized same-sex marriage, many suspect Washington is one of them.

Not yet. The House has sufficient votes. The Senate is close. It is time to step up and give all families fair rights and benefits, including marriage.

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