Washington could be the seventh state (including Washington D.C.) to approve same-sex marriage if the House, and possibly the voters, backs the bill that passed 28 to 21 in the state Senate Wednesday night.
“There's still a lot of work to be done. We have to be diligent, but we're confident that this legislation will make it to the governor's desk,” said Zach Silk of Washington United for Marriage, a statewide coalition fighting for marriage equality.
The House will meet early next week to vote, but the bill already has enough support among representatives to pass and Gov. Christine Gregoire said she's ready to sign it into law. Opponents of the bill, however, are putting up a fight. They will have until July to collect more than 150,000 signatures petitioning the order, which would then send the issue to the November ballot.
“I am happy it passed, but it will undoubtedly face a referendum in the fall, so it's too soon to begin talking about what it all means,” said Rev. Bill Ellis, dean of The Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist.
The state's four Roman Catholic bishops, on the other hand, aren't waiting to take a public stance against the bill and are urging Catholics to follow their lead. Archbishop J. Peter Sartain, archbishop of Seattle and president of the Washington State Catholic Conference, said redefining marriage insults the purpose and value of the sacred institution.
“Because only the union of a man and a woman can generate new life, no other human relationship is its equivalent,” he said in a January statement.
Catholics are a religious minority in Washington, making up 16 percent of the state's population, according to the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI). A quarter of the population identifies as Evangelical, 23 percent are Mainline Protestant and another 23 percent are not affiliated with any religion.
Also according to the PRRI the majority of Mainline Protestants (52 percent), Catholics (56 percent), and nones (74 percent) are in favor of marriage equality.
“The (Catholic) leadership is in a very, very different place than the laity,” said Ross Murray, director of faith and values for The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. Historically when same-sex marriage legislation has gone to referendum, it's lost. “But 2012 might just be the year that changes,” Murray said.
Currently gay marriage supporters are working to pass similar legislation in New Jersey and Maryland, and in Maine the issue has made it to the November ballot.
Tracy Simmons is an award winning journalist specializing in religion reporting, digital entrepreneurship and social journalism. In her 15 years on the religion beat, Simmons has tucked a notepad in her pocket and found some of her favorite stories aboard cargo ships in New Jersey, on a police chase in Albuquerque, in dusty Texas church bell towers, on the streets of New York and in tent cities in Haiti.
Simmons has worked as a multimedia journalist for newspapers across New Mexico, Texas and Connecticut. Currently she serves as the executive director of SpokaneFAVS.com, a digital journalism start-up covering religion news and commentary in Spokane, Wash. She is also a Scholarly Assistant Professor at Washington State University.