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Before same-sex marriages, state vote expected

Tim Waibel, left, and James Harris think a bill legalizing same-sex marriages in Washington will face a referendum challange in November.    - Brett Cihon/Staff photo
Tim Waibel, left, and James Harris think a bill legalizing same-sex marriages in Washington will face a referendum challange in November.
— image credit: Brett Cihon/Staff photo

The Legislature has enough votes to pass a bill that would legalize same-sex marriages in Washington. But instead of feeling excited, local couple James Harris and Tim Waibel are bracing for a fight.

“We know this is going to referendum,” said Waibel, 46. “It’s progress, but this is certainly not the end of anything.”

Same-sex marriage legislation appeared to have enough votes to make it through the House and Senate after Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, became the 25th senator to announce her support Monday. Once passed, the bill would mean gay couples could have marriages legally recognized by the state beginning in June.

But under state law, opponents of the bill have 90 days after the end of the legislative session on March 8 to submit 120,577 signatures to get a referendum on the ballot. The law -- and subsequent marriages -- would be put on hold until after elections in November.

Both Harris and Waibel, co-owners of Sugardaddy’s Salon on Bay Street, agree a vote on the law will head to the ballot. And that’s when it could really get ugly, said the 42-year-old James.

“I actually dread all the hate talk and rhetoric,” he said. “But that’s what has to happen for progress.”

Waibel likened gay marriage to the civil rights movement of the 1950’s and 60’s. He does not think certain, undeniable rights like the right to marry should be up for a vote, he said. But he believes taking the issue to the public is probably the most thorough way to come to a final conclusion.

“It will be a valiant fight,” he said. “This is how it has to work.”

The couple, who have been together six years, are in no rush to sign papers that say they are legally married. They’ve already been married for five years, James said, performing a marriage ceremony in front of 150 of their friends and family members at a restaurant Weibel used to own.

“We’ve already made a commitment in front of our friends and family,” James said. “That’s the important thing.”

The two have declined the legal status of domestic partnership because, “Tim doesn’t want to settle for that,” James said.

“It’s sitting in the back of the bus for him,” he said. “He wants all or nothing.”

Locally, Rep. Larry Seaquist and Sen. Derek Kilmer, democrats, back legislation to legalize same-sex marriages. Rep. Jan Angel, a republican from Port Orchard, would rather see the bill be pushed to the ballot.

“I hope people get a chance to vote on this,” she said. “I don’t think it’s government’s place to impose something like this without a vote of the people.”

Emails poured in all week, with individuals saying they will sign a petition to refer the issue to a ballot. And in emails she has seen, she can’t imagine the bill passing through with the referendum.

“The numbers have been probably 4-1 against it, at least in my emails,” she said.

An October poll conducted by the University of Washington asked 938 registered voters throughout the state if they would vote to keep a law in place legalizing same sex marriages. The poll found that 55 percent were would keep the law in place, 38 percent said they would vote to repeal the law and seven percent were undecided.  A poll on the Port Orchard Independent’s website asking if the legislature should pass a bill legalizing same sex-marriage resulted in a 50-50 draw.

City Councilman Fred Chang said that if the law went to referendum, he believes it would remain intact. It would be a tough battle, he said, with lots of money coming in from different organizations outside of the state.

He also said he would vote to legalize same-sex marriages if he was a legilator. From a tourism and hospitality industry standpoint, he said, legalizing same-sex marriages could bring income into the state.

“It’s a definite benefit fro the hospitality industry,” he said.

Waibel admitted he sees some points on both sides of the argument. He doesn’t want to project his ideas on other people, he said, but doesn’t think he should be barred from marrying a man he loves.

“In 40 years one of us will be packing up the other person’s crap and watching them leave in a hurst,” Harris said. “If that’s not love, I don’t know what is.”

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