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January 23, 2012 at 11:40 AM

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No outbursts or demonstrations at gay marriage hearing

More than an hour into the Senate hearing on gay marriage and, so far, both sides are playing by the rules. No outbursts, demonstrations or comments that the chairman considers out of bounds.

Lines formed two hours before the hearing started. The main hearing room quickly filled, as did all three overflow rooms, including the galleries above the Senate chamber.

State Sen. Ed Murray, the prime sponsor of same-sex legislation in the Senate, opened up his testimony saying he's waited 17 years for a chance to ask the Legislature to legalize gay marriage.

"Ultimately," he said, "this bill is about people who love and cherish each other and wish to honor that commitment through marriage."

Murray's long-time partner, Michael Shiosaki, also testified at the hearing, noting that a domestic partnerships are not the same thing as marriage.

"No matter when and where or how it is tried, history has demonstrated that separate is not equal," he said. "We hope this is the year we can marry."

Opponents of the legislation argued that marriage should be between a man and a woman and that, at the very least, the issue should be decided by voters, not the state Legislature.

"This is so much more than a legal debate," Joseph Backholm, with the Family Policy Institute of Washington, said, arguing the issue should go to voters. "The institution of marriage does not belong to the Legislature. It belongs to the people."

Jennifer Roback Morse, with the Ruth Institute in San Diego, said the legislation would redefine parenthood.

"Marriage attaches mother and fathers to their children and to one another," she said, adding later, "Do you want a world in which children have three or four parents?"

Murray has said he has 24 votes lined up for marriage legislation in the Senate. He needs 25 for passage. State Sens. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, Andy Hill, R-Redmond; Joe Fain, R-Auburn; Paull Shin, D-Edmonds; and Brian Hatfield, D-Raymond, have said they're uncommitted..

Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, has declined to comment, but records show he's opposed every gay-rights bill that's come up for a vote in the past.

The state House already has enough lawmakers in support of the measure to approve it. Gov. Chris Gregoire backs the bill, as well.

Once the hearings are over, the bills could move out of committee by Thursday in the Senate and by Jan. 30 in the House. The chairmen of both committees said they have the votes they need. The House bill is also expected to go through the House Ways and Means Committee. It's not clear if the Senate's measure will go through Senate Ways and Means.

Gay-marriage advocates say the earliest the bills could get floor votes would be the first part of February.

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