Today Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire (D) announced that she will be introducing a marriage equality bill in the legislative session that begins Monday.

Today, I’m announcing my support for a law that gives same-sex couples in our state the right to receive a marriage license in Washington – the same right given heterosexual couples.

It is time, it is the right thing to do, and I will introduce a bill to do it.”

Placing the struggle for marriage equality in the context of past and ongoing struggles to “recognize equality for racial minorities, women, people with disabilities, immigrants, religious sects,” Gov. Gregoire said

My generation fought [against] racial discrimination. My daughters’ generation is fighting now for gay and lesbian equal rights. I join them. I join my daughters and the daughters and sons of every other parent in Washington state and say it’s time — it’s over time — for us to insure gay and lesbian couples have equal rights, and that means marriage in Washington state.

Gov. Gregoire’s personal investment in the passage of this bill was palpable. Asked whether her decision to not run for reelection for governor freed her up to support marriage equality, she tapped over her heart and said “No, it’s right here that frees me up to do this.”

Governor Gregoire hasn’t always been a marriage equality proponent and spoke about the 7-year journey that brought her to where she is today.

I have been on my own journey, I’ll admit that. It has been a battle for me with my religion, and I have always been uncomfortable with the [anti-equality] position I took publicly. And then I came to realize, the religions can decide what they want to do, but it’s not O.K. for the state to discriminate. So it’s time for us to respect religious freedom, but it’s time for us to stand up and understand [that] the state cannot be in the business of discrimination. So it was that, it was my children, it was the children of friends, it was friends, it was leaders that I finally said to myself, it’s time to do the right thing. And let me tell you, I feel so much better today than I have for the last 7 years.

The inevitable question was asked, why introduce this bill now, when the Legislature has a major budgetary shortfall to deal with?

I multitask every day, legislators do as well. I’ll tell you one thing I think would be reprehensible, is the idea that we would say to someone ‘I’m sorry, we’re going to continue to discriminate and deny you equality because we have a budget problem’. That makes no sense to me. This is about our values. This is extremely important in the history of our state, so we need to understand we’ve got a lot of things to do. That’s the job of a Legislature. They’re going to get it all done. I’m optimistic.

The Governor further demonstrated her commitment and optimism by adding to Sen. Ed Murray’s comment that they were still a few votes short of the minimum needed for passage in the Senate with “Can I be clear? We got a very important vote today. We’ll get the rest that we need to get it to my desk.

Text and video of the speech are below the fold.

Marriage Equality Speech

January 4, 2012

Marriage Equality Speech
Governor Chris Gregoire
Jan 4, 2012
Olympia, Washington

Today I stand before you as Governor of the state of Washington…And as a wife, a mother, a student of the law and as a Washingtonian with a lifelong commitment to equality and freedom.

Today, I’m announcing my support for a law that gives same-sex couples in our state the right to receive a marriage license in Washington – the same right given heterosexual couples.

It is time, it is the right thing to do, and I will introduce a bill to do it.

Once again, the call for equality is sweeping through our nation – and this time it’s for our gay and lesbian citizens.

Make no mistake, America has been here many times before.

In our long, hard road for equality – history shows we have faltered but we have always fought hard when it comes to protections against discrimination.

We have made major strides towards equality for racial minorities, for women, for people with disabilities, for immigrants, for religious sects.

We applaud the generations before us for their wisdom and courage to fight for equality.

Now it’s our time…this generation’s call to end discrimination – discrimination against our gay and lesbian citizens.

It is time for marriage equality.

That means the State of Washington should not deny our citizens a marriage license based on sexual orientation.

For all couples, a marriage license is very important. It gives them the right to enter into a marriage contract in which their legal interests, and those of their children if any, are protected by well-established law.

Why then does our state deny a marriage license?

Some argue that the state should deny a marriage license to same-sex couples based on the premise that marriage is for procreation. Do we then deny a license to heterosexual couples who choose not to have children? To those who can’t have children or those who adopt? To those who have children through in-vitro fertilization?

Some argue that same-sex marriage weakens the institution of marriage. Is this a role of the state? If so, it has failed miserably with a divorce rate among heterosexual couples now at about 50 percent.

Some argue that the state must deny a marriage license based on religious beliefs.

With a marriage license, couples marry in civil or religious ceremonies.

In issuing the license, the state should not involve itself in an applicant’s religion.

The responsibility of the state is to license only. The right of a church is to decide whom to marry, and the state will honor the religious freedom of all faiths.

The arguments used today to discriminate based on sexual orientation should remind all of us of the arguments used to discriminate in the past, and specifically the laws banning interracial marriage.

It wasn’t until 1948 that the California Supreme Court became the first in the nation to declare such a law unconstitutional.
And the United States Supreme Court didn’t declare anti-miscegenation laws unconstitutional until 1967!

While we have worked hard to confront racial discrimination in our state, we have been on a journey to end discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Until 2006, Washington lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens were denied basic protections from discrimination.

It was that year that I signed a law banning discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing and other areas.

A year later, I signed a law creating domestic partnerships for same-sex couples, along with a number of rights enjoyed by married couples. And the year after that, I signed a law expanding those rights even more.

Then in 2009, voters approved Referendum 71, which expanded the domestic partnership rights of same-sex couples.

It was a notable achievement in our long journey, but it still left same-sex couples with a different status. Some say domestic partnerships are the same as marriage. That’s a version of the discriminatory separate but equal argument of the past.

For decades, that argument was used to keep African-Americans separate at schools, apartments, and drinking fountains. After all, the argument went, those separate places were just as good. But we all knew separate is not equal and finally the law caught up.

While I understand the experiences of racial minorities and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans are not identical, laws that keep some Americans in a separate status are inherently unjust.

It is now time for equality of our gay and lesbian citizens, and that means marriage.

When someone asks me what marriage means, I don’t think about the legal protections of a marriage license. I think about love, commitment, responsibility, and partnership.

Same-sex couples should not be denied the meaning of marriage. They have a right to be equal!

Throughout our journey, an ever-growing number of Washingtonians have come to understand that equal rights for same-sex couples is not only a good thing, but the right thing to do!

It’s time to give our sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, friends, and the couple down the street the right to marry in our state.

Now it’s time for all of us to stand up for equality in Washington. We have our champions like Sen. Ed Murray and Representative Jamie Pedersen. I stand with them.

I also stand with our younger Washingtonians. Is there a generation gap here? Is it time to listen to our young people?

Poll after poll show that young Americans – by substantial margins – support same-sex marriage even as their parents or grandparents struggle with it. Why?

Can it be that our children knew some kids on the playground who had two moms instead of a single mom, or two dads instead of a mom and dad?

Can it be because they befriended children of same-sex families – friendships that endure today?

Can it be that today’s young Americans see sexual orientation discrimination as just as unacceptable as my generation saw racial discrimination?

We must tell these children and their families that they are every bit as equal and important as all the other families in our state.

Finally, I stand in the memory of Cal Anderson – the late state senator who so humbly and courageously fought for civil rights in decades past.

Passage of the law would make Washington the seventh state in nearly as many years to grant same-sex couples the right to marry.

The first state was Massachusetts, followed by Connecticut, Iowa, New Hampshire, Vermont, and New York. And by the way, same-sex marriage is legal in our nation’s capitol, throughout Canada, and here in Washington by the Suquamish Tribe!

For many people, I know this is a very sensitive issue. I understand that. To those who fear it, I ask them to consider the fact that Massachusetts has permitted same-sex marriage since 2004 without the doomsayers’ predictions.

In fact, the people of that state are raising their children, coping in this economy, and working to make a better world, just like Washingtonians.

A special commission created by the state of New Jersey recently did a study about the potential impacts of same-sex marriage. It found that the economy of Massachusetts’ truly benefitted, and continues to benefit from the change in the law.

Among other findings, the study found that professional same-sex couples continue to move to Massachusetts, bringing their credentials, their children, and even extended families with them.

Same-sex couples have strong families, and have been raising happy, healthy children for years – right alongside other couples and single parents.

Our gay and lesbian families face the same hurdles as heterosexual families – making ends meet, finding time for career and family, raising their children and saving for college.
And we are better for it!

They and their kids join us in our churches, our schools, and supermarkets. And we are better for it!

We need to ask ourselves, how would it feel to be a child of a gay couple? How can we tell these children that their parents’ love is seen as unequal under the law, that their families are different.

We must tell these children and their families that they are every bit as equal and important as all the other families in our state.

As Washingtonians and Americans, we have serious problems to address – a far-off war, the Great Recession, more than 13 million people looking for work, worldwide economic competition.

Loving, committed married couples of any sexual orientation can only help us. They can help us defend our Democracy, help our neighbors, and build strong communities. And they will.

Fellow Washingtonians: Throughout our history, we have fought discrimination. We have joined together to recognize equality for racial minorities, women, people with disabilities, immigrants, religious sects.

Please answer the call to support equality again in our great state. It is the right thing to do and it is time.

Thank you.