Paull Shin could hold fate of gay marriage bill

Only state Sen. Paull Shin knows what he’ll say if a bill legalizing marriage for gay and lesbian couples comes up for a vote this session.

And the Edmonds Democrat isn’t telling anyone — at least not Senate colleagues, those lobbying him for and against the legislation and also those pestering reporters.

As a result, Shin, on whom the spotlight rarely shines, is awash in attention these days because what he decides may be decisive, even historic.

He’s among a handful of Democrat and Republican senators undecided or unwilling to reveal their position on legislation which begins its journey through the political process Monday.

If any of them publicly endorses the bill, he or she will be the 25th committed vote, which is the minimum needed for passage in the 49-member Senate. On the other hand, if every one of the undecided senators votes “no” on the legislation, it fails by a single vote.

The House already has a majority of lawmakers ready to approve it and Gov. Chris Gregoire is ready to sign it. That means all eyes are watching what occurs in the Senate and fixed on the likes of Shin.

Until he speaks, others from across the political spectrum are filling the vacuum of his silence with their prognostications.

Many are giving slim odds for Shin lining up for gay marriage, figuring chances are much better he will adhere to the teachings of his Mormon faith rather than pleadings of his political party’s leaders or the stance of many of his constituents.

What seems to be the best evidence for this is his 2009 vote against the so-called “everything but marriage” law providing gay and lesbian couples registered in domestic partnerships the same standing under state law as married heterosexual couples.

It came a year after Shin seemed to be of two minds toward gay couples. He co-sponsored a bill expanding their rights but wound up voting against the final version — which did pass.

But Shin has voted for broadening gay rights, just not lately. In 2006, he backed the very controversial bill to outlaw discrimination based on one’s sexual orientation. That measure passed with the minimum 25 votes.

If he steps up again, politics won’t be the determining reason. He’s in a safe district for Democrats, even conservative ones. He didn’t feel any heat for his voting record in his re-election in 2010. If he’s planning on retiring when his term ends in 2014 as many suspect, he probably won’t care about the political ramifications of his decision.

What may wind up swaying Shin on the gay marriage bill is how his action fits into the legacy he envisions for himself.

Shin is a humble man with a compelling personal biography who is very aware and proud of his standing as a political trailblazer in Washington.

When he took his seat in the House of Representatives in 1993, he became the first Korean-American to serve in the Legislature. Since moving to the Senate in 1999, he’s the only Korean-American to ever serve in both chambers.

It’s an accomplishment which gives him a unique legacy.

When he votes on gay marriage it will be historic — and part of his legacy — too.

Those are pretty good reasons to stay silent.

Political reporter Jerry Cornfield’s blog, The Petri Dish, is at Contact him at 360-352-8623 or

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