Washington State Moves Towards Equality

February 8, 2012

The Matthew Shepard Foundation applauds the political courage and basic sense of fairness of the Washington state Legislature, following today’s historic vote to make Washington the nation’s seventh state to recognize the fundamental right of same-sex couples to enter into marriage.

Washington has increased recognition for committed same-sex couples over the last five years, leading to today’s state House vote of 55-43. The state Senate, had voted last week, with a bipartisan 28-21 majority, to pass the marriage equality bill.

Washington Governor Christine Gregoire introduced the bill in early January after a personal battle with her own religious faith on the subject. “I have been on my own journey, I’ll admit that,” Gregoire said. “It has been a battle for me with my religion, and I have always been uncomfortable with the [anti-equality] position I took publicly. And then I came to realize, the religions can decide what they want to do, but it’s not O.K. for the state to discriminate.”

After Gov. Gregoire signs the bill in the upcoming days, Washington will join New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Iowa, Massachusetts and Connecticut as well as the District of Columbia in allowing same-sex couples to marry.

Judy Shepard, the mother of Matthew Shepard and the president and co-founder of the organization established in his memory, called the Washington vote historic and especially meaningful given this week’s 9th U.S. Circuit Court ruling that California voters acted unconstitutionally in repealing same-sex marriage in 2008.

“Looking back at the thirteen years since Dennis and I began speaking out in favor of equality for LGBT Americans, and how slow and frustrating our progress as a country felt for most of that time, these last few years have just been extraordinary,” Shepard said.

“It took a decade to get simple hate-crime protections on the federal books, and now all of a sudden there are 35 million Americans living in states where same-sex partners can legally marry, and potentially several million more depending on how court cases or other processes get resolved. We still have a long way to go, but it finally feels like we are making some real progress on several fronts.”

State recognition of same-sex marriages still does not guarantee federal recognition of those marriages due to the 1996 “Defense of Marriage Act.” Congressional or federal judiciary action would be required in order for same-sex marriages to guarantee the wide array of marriage-dependent federal rights ranging from Social Security benefits to joint tax-filing status.

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