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Jerry Cornfield | jcornfield@heraldnet.com
Published: Thursday, January 19, 2012, 12:36 p.m.

Kastama signals support for gay marriage bill

Twenty-four down, one to go.

State Sen. Jim Kastama, a conservative Democrat from Puyallup, announced today he will support a bill allowing same-sex couples to marry, leaving supporters one vote shy of a majority in the state Senate.

But it wasn't easy for him.

In a statement, he said:

“This decision is a deeply personal one. Unlike some of my colleagues in liberal districts, I will not return home to cheers and handshakes. I represent the district I was raised in. My wife and I purchased and live in the same house I grew up in and we have raised our family there. My district has known me my whole life and for 16 years has entrusted me to be a fiercely independent legislator. 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."

(The full statement is posted below)

Kastama also said he wants it passed without a clause requiring it be sent to the ballot for ratification by voters.

With his decision, 24 senators are on record backing the bill that would make Washington the seventh state to recognize marriages of gay and lesbian couples; 25 votes are needed for passage.

Right now 18 senators say they oppose the bill, leaving seven – three Democrats and four Republicans – undecided, uncommitted or unwilling to reveal their intentions on Senate Bill 6239.

Also today, several large businesses, including Microsoft, Vulcan, RealNetworks and Group Health Corp. endorsed the legislation.

Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, the prime sponsor of the gay marriage bill, lauded the companies in a prepared statement.

“The support of marriage equality we've seen from these businesses is not only very encouraging and the right thing to do, it also just makes sense. If we want to be leaders in a global economy, we need the best talent in the world. And the more welcoming, the more supportive we are of all people, the more people – including gay and lesbian professionals – will want to work and live in Washington,” he said.

Meanwhile, the political fight gets formally under way Monday with public hearings planned in a Senate committee in the morning and a House panel in the afternoon. Big crowds are expected at both.

Here is Sen. Kastama's complete statement issued today:

“Thank you for being here today.

“In my two terms as a State Representative and three as a State Senator, I have defended the institution of marriage and family. The reason I got into politics in the first place was to advocate for upstanding divorced fathers disenfranchised by the state with less than equal child visitation time.

“As the economy struggles, deficits rise, and revenues fall, whether we like it or not our federal and state government programs will shrink. Marriage, a source of personal support and financial security for many, will become the true safety net. The state has a responsibility to strengthen marriage to prepare for this economic and societal reality.

“As our world has changed, so have our relationships. We are a very different people than we were in the 1950's or during my childhood. To strengthen marriage as a valued institution it must evolve to meet the demands of today's couples. In 2012, I believe we have reached the point where society is ready to recognize and support same-sex couples who seek the bonds, benefits and security of marriage. They too, deserve this “safety net.”

“My colleagues have informed me that I am one of the last votes needed to pass marriage equality legislation in the Senate.

“In the interest of gay and lesbian couples in my district and across our state I will vote “yes” on the marriage equality legislation before us this session.

“I believe we need to pass this legislation without a ballot amendment.

“This is not my first tough vote. It will not be my last.

“This decision is a deeply personal one. Unlike some of my colleagues in liberal districts, I will not return home to cheers and handshakes. I represent the district I was raised in. My wife and I purchased and live in the same house I grew up in and we have raised our family there. My district has known me my whole life and for 16 years has entrusted me to be a fiercely independent legislator. 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.

“This is one of the most controversial issues of the past several decades.

“However, for many of my colleagues voting for this bill is not controversial at all. There is no risk to them, they are safe to tote the party line from safe seats. To their constituents, this vote will be viewed as a triumph of leadership and a marker of courage. And sadly, some will use this vote to overshadow a record of special interest indebtedness that has failed this state.

“When one sponsor of this legislation was asked why he would not support Charter Schools, he said it was because it was too controversial. I've heard the same reasons given for why we can't restructure government or correct a budget that predictably leads to a deficit every single year.

“In our toxic political climate, the vulnerable are held hostage to tax increases, students are held hostage to the infighting of adults, and everyone is held hostage to exploding healthcare costs and mounting deficits.

“Gays and lesbians are not the only people calling for controversial reforms. Everyone is.

“If controversy is the cost of tackling important issues, then I say bring on the controversy. Make controversy the hallmark of this session.

“If we can address this difficult issue, then we have no excuse for not addressing other difficult challenges.

“Now I'm happy to take any questions and discuss some of those other challenges.”

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