In a recent diary, Lurleen noted that the Washington state domestic partnership expansion bill includes a delay — until 2012 — of any of the added provisions that would have a fiscal impact. These would encompass such things as joint and survivor retirement benefits for state employees and coverage for the partners of public safety officers killed in the line of duty.
Some commenters expressed concerns that the delay is unfair, timid, and could lead to a legislative effort to rescind the benefits in the interim.
I asked Rep. Jamie Pedersen, prime House sponsor of the bill to explain:
For those who haven’t noticed, the state has a $6 billion shortfall. This session, we will be making many horrible cuts. The governor has proposed ending financial support for mentally ill poor people and eliminating their health care coverage, for example. Because we have to balance the budget, every dollar that we add to the budget will result in other dollars being cut.
There is real danger, especially in the Senate, that if this bill were to go into effect in the 2009-11 biennium, the accompanying fiscal effect would be enough to take the whole bill down. So Senator Murray and I made a strategic decision to get the change in place but delay the effective date of the change to a date certain.
It is not fair and I wish it were otherwise. But the whole thing is frankly unfair. We should be able to get married, and the whole DP law is an inadequate and partial substitute for that. At least we are making some progress, and an end to this particular inequality will be in sight.
I also hope that the folks who complain will speak up and say it is unfair. I certainly hate to think that some police officer with a DP will be killed and her domestic partner will be unable to get a death benefit.
In an article in this week’s alt-weekly, The Stranger, writer Eli Sanders lays out other reasons for the measured approach:
The bigger picture, in addition to the reality of the 1998 ban and the 2005 supreme-court decision, is this: While 56 percent of Washingtonians support legal parity for gay and lesbian couples, that support drops to 37 percent if the word “marriage” is used, according to a 2008 University of Washington poll. In that environment, it’s totally inconceivable that any savvy gay-rights supporter would demand a push for marriage in the state legislature this year.
“We need four things to move the marriage bill,” said Josh Friedes, advocacy director for Equal Rights Washington. “A house that will pass the bill, a senate that will pass the bill, a governor who will sign the bill, and an electorate that will protect the bill when it goes up for referendum” (meaning a popular vote to repeal the bill). “What we do not have right now is certainty about the electorate.”
Sanders goes on to reinforce Murray and Pedersen’s concerns about support in the Senate:
In reality, gay-rights advocates don’t have much certainty about the state legislature, either. This year’s domestic-partnership bill has 56 sponsors in the house (more than enough to pass it), but in the senate it only has 20 sponsors (of 50 total members), which means Murray and others will be lobbying for additional votes. And that’s for domestic partnership. Imagine if the demand was marriage or nothing.
“Most of my colleagues outside of Seattle have never heard from anybody on the issue of marriage equality,” Murray said. “To me, that speaks to the major Achilles’ heel of the gay and lesbian political movement.”
Noting the rise in activism after the passage of Prop 8 in California, Sanders expresses this caution to newly aroused activists who express impatience withe pace of progress: “… this confuses the activist impulse with the political imperative; one of the major lessons of Prop 8 is that if you’re going to risk a popular vote on your rights, you need to be sure you can win.”
In the well-attended news conference announcing introduction of the d.p. expansion bill, legislators were explicit that the ultimate goal is access to full marriage (Putting the lie to opponents’ laughable cries about attempts to sneak marriage into place through the back door.)
But they were equally certain of this: we’re in an ongoing conversation with legislators and fellow citizens about the importance of full marriage equality. This is the hard work that both neophyte and seasoned activist have to recommit themselves to.