Haugen tilts Senate in favor of gay marriage
By JESSIE STENSLAND
Whidbey News Times Assistant editor
January 25, 2012 · Updated 8:55 AM
State Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen made national headlines this week for announcing that she will vote in favor of a bill to legalize gay marriages.
The Democratic senator’s decision means state lawmakers now have enough votes to pass the marriage equality bill. Haugen, a Camano Island resident, announced her decision Monday after dithering on the issue for weeks while listening to her constituents.
Haugen’s opinion on gay marriage isn’t shared by fellow District 10 lawmakers. Both Rep. Barbara Bailey, a Republican from Oak Harbor, and Rep. Norma Smith, a Republican from Clinton, will cast definitive “no” votes, even though passage is considered a sure thing in the House.
Bailey said she feels that the gay marriage debate is a diversion from the vital work that lawmakers should be engaged in.
“It’s been a huge distraction,” Bailey said. “The serious nature of our budget situation demands that we pay full attention.”
Legislators are three weeks into a 60-day session in which they need to close a $1.5 billion budget shortfall. Bailey said she was frustrated that lawmakers failed to pass a “sustainable budget” during earlier sessions.
“We have some very critical decisions to make,” she said.
Likewise, Smith said the gay-marriage issue is diverting attention from efforts to improve the economy and cut unemployment. But the larger issue, she said, is the erosion of constitutionally-protected religious freedoms.
“There’s no question that the bill could stifle the religious freedoms of millions of people in the state,” she said.
Smith cited examples of how religious freedoms are being corroded in states where gay marriage laws have already been adopted. In Massachusetts, Catholic Charities were forced out of the adoption business because the church doesn’t accept gay marriage. She claimed the safeguards to religion in the current bill are so narrow that they are useless.
The same-sex marriage bill has drawn hundreds of people on both sides of the issue to Olympia.
“It would be better to have all that energy focused on what we need to be doing right now,” Bailey said.
Bailey argued that the bill doesn’t provide any more rights or privileges to gay couples than they have now under the current domestic partnership rules. She said the majority of people from Oak Harbor she’s talked to are against the bill.
“It’s not just saying a same-sex couple can be married, it’s about destroying the definition of marriage that was put in statute quite some time ago,” she said, referring to the state’s 1998 Defense of Marriage Act.
Haugen said in her speech Monday that she has strong Christian beliefs and has always believed in traditional marriage, but that it’s not her role to judge others.
“But this issue isn’t about just what I believe,” she said. “It’s about respecting others, including people who may believe differently than I. It’s about whether everyone has the same opportunities for love and companionship and family and security that I have enjoyed.”
Haugen had earlier said that the gay marriage issue should go on the ballot so that voters can choose for themselves, but it turned out that there may not be enough votes to put it to a ballot measure. As a result, she felt forced to make a choice.
“I know this announcement makes me the so-called 25th vote, the vote that ensures passage. That’s neither here nor there,” she said. “If I were the first or the seventh or the 28th vote, my position would not be any different. I happen to be the 25th because I insisted on taking this much time to hear from my constituents and to sort it out for myself, to reconcile my religious beliefs with my beliefs as an American, as a legislator, and as a wife and mother who cannot deny to others the joys and benefits I enjoy.”
Contact Whidbey News Times Assistant editor Jessie Stensland at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360.675.6611 ext. 5056.