Gay-Marriage Ban Coasts Into Law -- Harried Democrats Help Override Veto

OLYMPIA - In a well-choreographed show of political expediency, lawmakers yesterday outlawed gay marriages in Washington by overriding Democratic Gary Locke's veto of the ban.

Lawmakers, eager to be done with the controversial issue, rushed the ban through in minutes and dumped it in the governor's lap. Locke's veto came within the hour.

Then both houses voted summarily to override the veto.

No one could remember the last time a bill was passed, vetoed and overridden within hours - with almost no discussion and no debate.

Rep. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, the only openly gay member of the Legislature, said opponents of the ban will take their battle to the courts.

Locke, who vetoed the ban last year, didn't have the votes to make it stick this session. Some lawmakers said that was partly his fault.

"There are lots of members on both sides of the aisle who wish he had been more clear about this," said Sen. Margarita Prentice, D-Seattle.

She and other lawmakers were bewildered when Locke let it be known earlier this month that he was considering letting the ban become law without his signature. He confused Democrats again when he subsequently announced he would veto the ban.

Republicans vowed to send the measure to the ballot over Locke's veto, and they had the votes to do it.

Democrats were left to cut the best deal they could with Republicans, who were only too glad to help.

"We were perfectly happy to go along because it served our interests," said Sen. Majority Leader Dan McDonald, R-Bellevue.

It was the first override for Locke, who vetoed a quarter of the bills passed by the Legislature last session.

Locke said he vetoed the law to be consistent with his position last year, and because the law is not needed since gay marriage is already illegal in Washington.

To many Democrats, overriding Locke's veto this time was a matter of political expediency. Having the measure on November's election ballot would bring out conservative voters in swing districts, many said. Lawmakers also feared an ugly, divisive campaign.

"The Republicans have the votes. As distasteful as this is, it's very practical," said Rep. Marlin Appelwick, D-Seattle, the House minority leader. "We need a new legislative majority. You live to fight another day."

He voted against the override and against the bill, but said he would have supported the override if his vote was needed.

Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle, who voted against the override and the ban, said fighting it was futile. "I was one of the ones who wanted to rally the troops, and I felt very much like Gen. Custer."

Rep. Bill Thompson, R-Everett, the prime sponsor of the bill banning gay marriage, was visibly pleased. Not that it was any surprise.

"We've got an election coming up, and there was a feeling this bill would do just as well, and even better at the ballot," he said. "It put Democrats in a weak position in their campaign, and they were caught in a bad situation. They were looking to minimize the casualties, take the best position they could get."

Washington will become the 27th state with a ban against gay marriage. The bill defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman. It also indicates the state will refuse to recognize same-gender marriages performed in other states.

The new law takes effect in 90 days.