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February 1, 2012 at 7:44 PM

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Same-sex marriage debate underway on the Senate floor

The state Senate is set to vote this evening on a measure that would legalize gay marriage in Washington state.

Supporters say they have the 25 votes needed to pass the bill. If approved by the Senate, it moves to the House, where it already has enough support. Gov. Chris Gregoire says she will sign it into law if passed.

Floor debate by the full Senate is expect to start about 6 p.m. The bill's primary sponsor, Sen. Ed Murray hopes to keep the whole debate to a couple hours, but it could go longer. Six amendments to the bill have been filed.

I will be posting regular updates as the debate continues tonight.

6:40 p.m. - Eleven proposed amendments to the marriage bill, SB 6239, have already been filed -- most of them seeking to clarify religious exemptions contained in the legislation.

One amendment, by Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, would guarantee the law doesn't affect the way religious or nonprofit organizations are licensed to provide adoption, foster care, or other child-placing services.

Another by Sen. Brian Hatfield would attach a requirement to the bill that the Secretary of State submit the measure for a referendum vote.

Lawmakers started considering the amendments a few minutes ago.

6:55 p.m. - The Senate is adopting a series of amendments intended to clarify religious exemptions in the legislation.

Some can be found here, here and here.

7:10 p.m. - One proposed amendment by Sen. Dan Swecker , R-Rochester, sought to extend religious exemptions to include businesses and individuals, such as photographers and wedding planners, who are opposed to gay marriage.

Swecker says businesses could be open to discrimination complaints if they decline to offer services to gay couples getting married.

Sen. Ed Murray, D- Seattle, said the state's anti-discrimination laws already cover such situations, so the amendment should be rejected.

It was rejected 27 to 22.

7:25 p.m. - Sen. Brian Hatfield, D-Raymond, in proposing an amendment that the Legislature send the measure to a referendum vote, urged fellow senators, "let's trust the people. If you support his bill ... let the voters have the final say."

Sen. Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, urged rejection of the amendment, saying, "from the framework of equal rights under the law, this is not something you ask folks to vote on, in my opinion."

Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, said, "If ever there was an issue that needs to be referred to the people, this is it."

Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, urged approval of the amendment: "The fact of the matter is we are talking about pieces of legislation that affect less than .05 percent of the population. Do we have the authority with a simple majority to make that change?"

Sen. Ed Murray, D. Seattle, argued that the rights of a minority should never be decided by the whim of the majority and urged the amendment be rejected.

The amendment was rejected 26 to 23.

7:45 p.m. - In urging his colleagues to support the bill, Murray said: "The citizens of Washington state have come to understand that lesbian and gay families are their neighbors and their friends.

"Marriage is how society says you are a family; the way the community knows a couple loves each other."

Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-San Juan Island, spoke emotionally about living as the son of a gay man. "I grew up with a strong value system. I was taught that a family is not determined by the genders of persons involved but by the love and commitment they share.

"These are the values I carry throughout my life and that my wife and I pass on to our little girl."

Republican Sen. Dan Swecker thanked Murray for allowing important amendments to be adopted.

"My opposition is not much of a surprise; I've never hidden my opposition.

"I voted against domestic partnerships, not because I don't believe in granting legal rights to same-sex couples, but because I knew that it would lead to altering the definition of marriage."

Murray offered that, regardless of how his fellow senators vote on the bill, a (marriage) invitation could be in the mail in the not too distant future.

8:15 p.m. - The Senate voted 28 to 21 to pass the same-sex marriage legislation. The bill, SB 6239, will be transferred to the House for its consideration.

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