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Eastside pastor vows to fight same-sex marriage legislation; Kirkland officials support bill
Pastor Ken Hutcherson is steadfast in his beliefs against same-sex marriage.
Co-founder of the Antioch Bible Church in Redmond, who also preaches at the Seventh Day Adventist School in Kirkland, Hutcherson has been on the front lines of the same-sex marriage issue for years.
The basic foundation for his opposition is that the bill goes against his Christian views.
“It’s been forced on a majority of the people who don’t want this to take place - the definition of marriage to be changed,” said Hutcherson, who is one of the most outspoken activists nationally on the subject.
A bill to legalize same-sex marriage is moving through the Washington State Legislature and proponents of the legislation say they have the votes. Gov. Chris Gregoire has also stated she will sign it into law if it gets to her desk.
A Senate committee voted Tuesday to move the bill to a floor vote and the Senate is expected to vote on Wednesday.
Washington would become the seventh state to legalize same-sex marriage, along with New York, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Iowa, Connecticut and Vermont. The District of Columbia also recognizes same-sex marriage.
“I think it is an issue that is going to become a big discussion on religious freedom concerning the aspect of those who say that it will not affect churches and pastors with their beliefs, but that has not been the case in the states that have passed those laws,” said Hutcherson, who vows to help a grassroots effort to repeal the law if enacted.
But for most elected officials who represent Kirkland residents in Olympia, the legislation is a civil rights issue and not about freedom of religion.
“It is a hard line for some people to recognize,” said Rep. Deb Eddy, D-Kirkland, who is also a former Kirkland mayor and will vote in favor of the measure. “This is not something I would go out and take a poll on. It is consistent with equal protection as a society.”
Eddy said that she sees the issue as analogous to mixed-race couples’ fight in the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s when the state did not recognize their marriage.
“The same religious arguments were raised then,” said Eddy. “This is not a religious issue, it is a civil issue … This is one more step in modernizing a civil issue.”
But Hutcherson, who is African American, disputes that.
“They have never had to ride on the back of the bus, they were never harmed to the degree the African Americans were harmed simply because of their skin color and it’s a well-known fact that the constitution does not protect a minority that can change from one thing to the other,” said Hutcherson who is a former NFL player, including time with the Seahawks. “And it’s been proven that even though they say homosexuals cannot change, they were born that way, that is a lie because I have many ex-homosexuals in our church who have moved out of that lifestyle. So how can you have a minority who can move in and out of it? No, it has nothing to do at all with the civil rights movement.”
But Eddy is not alone in her beliefs.
“I’ll support it,” said Rep. Larry Springer, D-Kirkland, who is also a former Kirkland mayor. “I think it’s a matter of equal protection under the law. It’s fair. The legislature has steadily been moving toward equity in marriage for gay couples over the years, this is the final step that finally gets us to parity.”
Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland, and Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Bellevue, support the legislation and represent Kirkland.
Tom believes that the legislation would grant equality and opportunity to those who’ve been in long committed civil relationships in the lesbian and gay communities.
“Our district is widely in favor of it,” said Tom. “I do think it is a civil right.”
However, not all representatives are as sure about the measure.
Sen. Andy Hill, R-Redmond, said that he was still undecided.
“It’s a very big deal to a lot of people on both sides,” said Hill.
He said his office has been inundated with more than 2,000 constituents who have called him to discuss the bill, many of which who said they had never contacted a legislator before.
“It is a very personal and a very passionate issue to a number of people,” said Hill. “I’ve spent a lot of time talking to constituents who support both sides of the issue. I ran to fix up education and get government on a sustainable path. I have a lot of people who are frustrated that we are spending so much time on this issue, given the enormity of our fiscal and education crisis.”
The Kirkland City Council has not taken a public stance on the issue but it is a subject that many council members believe in deeply.
Kirkland Mayor Joan McBride said the council has not taken an official stance on the legislation and is focused on opposing a bill to scale back the annexation sales-tax credit. But McBride said that some of the council members have lobbied in favor of the same-sex marriage bill.
“I have sent a letter to some senators and representatives voicing my support for marriage equality and I know other council members have too,” said McBride.
Religion vs. discrimination
For many in the gay and lesbian community, discrimination has been a big part of their lives and passage of the legislation would break down more barriers.
But to Hutcherson, the passage of the legislation would mean religious discrimination.
Current laws do not allow for discrimination based on sexual orientation. But Hutcherson and others are concerned that if same-sex marriage is legalized some businesses will be forced to render services to married gay couples or face litigation.
“If you’ve ever sold anything in your facility - coffee, books, whatever - … especially if you’ve ever rented your facilities out, then it makes it an open issue with the facility,” said Hutcherson. “So if a gay couple or someone comes and wants to use or rent that facility and you say no, then that is discrimination and that eventually I know is something a gay couple is going to do. That has happened in every state where this bill has been passed, so it’s not like this is new. And there’s no protection for a business that is owned by Christians that if you want to refuse a same-sex couple coming in because of your religious beliefs, then you can be also sued for discrimination.”
The issue is one of the reasons that Hill had not backed the bill as of Reporter deadline.
But others dispute that claim.
According to Tom, the legislation would allow for religious exemption and not require officials of church or religious denominations to perform same-sex marriages nor would they be penalized for refusing to do so.
But Hutcherson is worried about the small business person with strong religious beliefs on the subject.
In 2005, Hutcherson led an effort to block legislation for an anti-discrimination bill that would have made it illegal to fire someone based on sexual orientation.
Hutcherson was successful in lobbying Microsoft to withdraw its support of the bill by notifying the company that it has 700 evangelical employees who were opposed to the legislation. Microsoft eventually reversed course and supported the bill, which was passed.
Hutcherson took the issue to the street and attempted to start an initiative to repeal the legislation. He eventually abandoned the effort to focus on stopping domestic-partnerships legislation.
He said that he will lead the same type of grassroots effort to repeal the same-sex marriage legislation if it ultimately passes through an initiative.
“I’m not only planning on gathering signatures but I plan on being at the forefront of making sure that others help,” said Hutcherson.
Starbucks, Google and Microsoft are among the corporations to support gay marriage in Washington state. The companies bring the total number of supportive businesses to more than 100.
Opponents would have 90 days from the end of the legislative session to collect enough signatures to put the referendum on the ballot. Opponents would have to collect 120,577 signatures by June 6.
If they were to collect enough signatures the law would be put on hold until the November election. If the initiative failed the law would take effect Dec. 6.
Editor Carrie Wood contributed to this report.