OLYMPIA — Gay marriage in Washington state is all but certain to be decided by voters in November, but the state’s gubernatorial candidates will be offsetting each other’s votes on whether to uphold the new law approving same-sex unions.
Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna said that he will vote no on Referendum 74 if it qualifies, as expected, for the ballot; his Democratic opponent, former U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee, will vote yes to uphold the law.
Inslee, who called President Barack Obama’s recent announcement of support for gay marriage “an act of moral courage,” said this issue is one that clearly defines the difference between him and McKenna on the state’s biggest social issue of the year.
“My opponent’s positions are not consistent with the forward-thinking, all-embracing, tolerant views of the state of Washington,” Inslee said.
Opponents of the new law legalizing gay marriage have been collecting signatures in advance of a June 6 deadline. If they don’t raise the required 120,577 valid voter signatures, the measure passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Chris Gregoire earlier this year takes effect June 7. If they do, the law is put on hold until the November election.
McKenna said that while he supports same-sex partners having the same legal rights as heterosexual married couples, “for me, marriage itself is a question of religious faith, and I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman.”
“I recognize that others disagree, so this is why it’s appropriate for the voters to decide what they want the law to be,” he said.
McKenna supports the state’s current domestic partnership law, known as the “everything but marriage” law that grants domestic partners all the state-granted rights of marriage. He notes that he voted in favor of keeping that law in place when it was challenged by a referendum at the ballot in 2009.
He also said he would not be in support of a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage in Washington state.
“I think this is an issue that is properly left to statute, not for our constitution,” he said. “I don’t think that’s an appropriate change to our constitution.”
Inslee has made much of McKenna’s stands on social issues in hopes he can paint McKenna as out of touch with the state.
In addition to his early support of gay marriage, Inslee cites his support for easy access to emergency contraceptives as well as a bill that failed in the Legislature this year that would have required insurance plans funded or administered by the state to cover abortions if they cover maternity care.
McKenna said he supports insurance coverage for reproductive health, but that he does not support the proposed mandate, known as the Reproductive Parity Act, because of concerns that it would jeopardize federal funding. But the bill that ultimately died in the Legislature had an amendment attached to it that would have nullified the proposed state law in the event it were found to conflict with federal law.
McKenna said that his support of a woman’s right to have an abortion has been consistent throughout.
“It’s a matter for a woman to control her body and make that decision for herself,” he said. “We hope that whenever possible, a woman will choose the child, but the point is it’s her choice.”
McKenna notes that he’s never been endorsed by either the abortion rights group Planned Parenthood or the anti-abortion Human Life of Washington because his position isn’t “pure” enough for either group. Planned Parenthood announced in April that it was endorsing Inslee in the governor’s race.
On the issue of easy access to emergency contraceptives, the state has been fighting a multi-year legal battle on the issue.
Washington’s rules require that pharmacies stock and dispense drugs for which there is a demand. The state adopted the dispensing regulations in 2007, following reports that some women had been denied access to Plan B, which has a high dose of medicine found in birth-control pills and is effective if a woman takes it within 72 hours of unprotected sex. A pharmacy and two pharmacists sued, saying the rules infringed on their religious freedom.
As the state’s chief legal officer, McKenna’s office has represented the state in the case and is currently appealing a federal judge’s ruling that the state can’t force pharmacies to sell Plan B or other emergency contraceptives.
Inslee argues that McKenna is just doing his job and that he refuses to articulate his personal beliefs on emergency contraceptive access. McKenna’s campaign directed all questions on the issue to his non-campaign office. Attorney general spokeswoman Janelle Guthrie said that because the issue is actively before the courts, McKenna is focused on representing the state and “it’s not appropriate for us to issue personal opinions.”
One issue where both candidates agree is on reclassifying marijuana as a drug that can be prescribed by doctors and filled by pharmacists. Washington is among 16 states and the District of Columbia that have laws allowing the medical use of marijuana. Marijuana is currently classified a Schedule 1 drug, meaning it’s not accepted for medical treatment and can’t be prescribed, and doctors can only “recommend” the drug. Gregoire has joined a handful of other governors in asking the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to reclassify the drug.
However, when it comes to full legalization, McKenna said he would vote against a measure that will appear on the November ballot to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. Inslee expressed concerns about Initiative 502 but wouldn’t firmly say he’d vote no.
“I’m not intending to vote on it right now,” Inslee said. “From what I know right now, it is not my intention to vote for it.”