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The domestic vote

The Washington Senate vote today on the domestic partnership bill showed clearly who is in charge in the Washington legislature: An urban-suburban coalition decisive enough to write off the rest. And it may suggest more besides.

Senate Bill 5336, sponsored by Senator Ed Murray, D-Seattle, would create a state-backed registry for same-sex adult couples and unmarried heterosexual couples over age 62; registration would afford some legal rights ordinarily associated with marriage, including hospital visitation, burial, some insurance advantages and others. Passage in the Senate, on 28-19 vote, sends it to the House, where it is expected to pass more easily, and likely to Governor Chris Gregoire, who is expected to sign it.

It’s a politically significant measure, throwing down a marker on one of the hottest of issues. One Republican senator, Don Benton of Vancouver, proposed sending the measure to a popular vote, but that was defeated. One wonders what the voters would have done.

Odds are, they would have passed it; on emotional measures like this one, legislators more often than not are fair barometers of what their constituency thinks, and the vote here was not close.

It was a partisan vote, and a regional vote.

All but one of the 28 senators voting in favor were Democrats, and they all represent urban or suburban districts. (The closest to exceptions might be Phil Rockefeller or Harriet Spanel with their partial-island districts, but even those are fundamentally suburban in nature.) There were no rural votes in favor. The one Republican in favor was Senator Dale Brandland of Bellingham – his district from that city to the Canadian border is an area with a lot of urban sensibility.

That sets up the 19 in opposition, who included four Democrats – James Hargrove, Brian Hatfield, Marilyn Rasmussen and Tim Sheldon – who happen to be the only four Democrats in the Senate representing rural districts (Rasmussen’s south and east of Olympia, the other three on the Olympic peninsula). The other 15 were Republicans, most (with a few exceptions) representing rural districts.

The urban-rural split here is eve more striking than the partisan split. You get the feeling that, in addition to senators’ individual feelings on the matter, that district viewpoints were considered – and fell into patterns.

That’s why we’re not convinced a strong negative public reaction will ensue, as suggested by Senator Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville. He rightly noted that the bill could be challenged by a voter referendum this November, and likely an attempt at least will be made along those lines. “Domestic partnership,” though, sounds a lot less culturally provocative than “gay marriage,” and that alone can make a lot of difference.

And it’s worth considering too what those swing voters in the suburbs have been doing in the last few years; they have not been moving toward an alliance with the rural regions.

A ballot issue debate may well replicate some of the Senate debate. As the Spokesman-Review noted, it was “wide-ranging and emotional, including the ideals of the American revolution, bomb-wielding terrorists, gay and lesbian troops and firefighters, and mentions of necrophilia and bestiality.”

Doesn’t sound from here like a prescription for an overturn.

NOTE Edited to remove incorrect reference to passage of a same-ex marriage measure. Both Oregon and Idaho have passed such measures, but Washington has not.

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  1. chocobot18 chocobot18 March 2, 2007

    Wait, Washington voted to ban gay marriage? I don’t think so. The only thing that seemed to come close was DOMA, and that was passed by the legislature, vetoed by Gov. Locke, overruled again by the legislature, and made law. I don’t remember WA voters once voting to ban gay marriage.

  2. Randy Stapilus Randy Stapilus Post author | March 3, 2007

    Thanks for the comment – I had a moment of confusion in the writing: I had meant to refer to the Oregon and Idaho votes. On reflection, I dropped the reference; circumstances in those states were different than those in Washington now, and the comparison doesn’t work clearly.

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