During the business round table McKenna hosted in the evening he spoke with me as the small groups conversed. His main point on gay marriage is that it is inevitably going to go before voters, and that if Washington is going to change its policy that it should be voters who make that call.
McKenna said he voted for the domestic partnership law in 2009, which was supposed to give same-sex couples registered as domestic partners all the same rights the state allows married couples. If it isn’t working out that way, he said, then the state should address where a gay couples’ rights are being denied and fix it. He said it is not a constitutional issue, that the courts have upheld the state’s definition of marriage. “I support traditional marriage,” he said. “It’s a policy question. Do we want to redefine marriage?”
On his points about reforming workers’ compensation laws, Labor & Industries, health care, liability laws, I asked him where he thought he would get the most buy-in from the Legislature should both houses remain Democratic. He said the Legislature has already initiated some reform with workers’ comp, but that a move to privatize the insurance might be controversial. He said it doesn’t have to be for-profit insurers competing, that it could be limited to non-profits. He said Washington system is failing employees and employers because of the monopoly in place now.
McKenna also said he would think introducing tools like tax-increment financing (now unconstitutional) might be doable as well. A form of it is already in place in Gig Harbor with St. Anthony’s Hospital and in Bremerton with the parking garage that will be topped by a movie theater.
In health care he and Inslee are on the same page that Medicare reimbursements should be based on results rather than how many services are provided. Governors, McKenna said, would need to band together to influence the federal government to make those changes, that they already have successfully in some cases.
During lunch one in attendance said he thought McKenna’s chances of being successful in his challenge of the mandate portion of health care reform were great. I asked him if he was as optimistic. “I think the odds . . . are 5-4.” It only took me about 10 seconds to get the joke. Whatever happens, it won’t be surprising if the U.S. Supreme Court votes 5-4 one way or the other.
Back on the gay marriage issue I asked, in a roundabout way, if having it on a ballot favors him or Jay Inslee in the governor’s race. It’s something I addressed in the last paragraph of an earlier blog post about same-sex marriage. McKenna said there is a lot of debate about it, that he doesn’t know. In 2004 Republican Dino Rossi might have won the election had it been on the ballot in Washington as it was in other states. But many supporters of same-sex marriage rights believe public sentiment has shifted enough that it might work in Democrats’ favor now.
I’m not certain we’re going to find out. If the Legislature does pass a bill granting marriage to same-sex couples, I believe the question will end up on a ballot. Getting enough signatures will not be that difficult, I predict, especially because getting a referendum to undo a legislative action requires half the signatures a regular initiative does.
In either case, I tend to believe both sides would be able to gather enough signatures to get something ready for an election, but I’m not as certain gay marriage proponents will launch an initiative if the Legislature doesn’t act this session.
Initiative 71, the 2009 “Everything but Marriage” referendum, passed with 53.15 percent support. McKenna said he supported it, but he doesn’t want to call it “marriage.” Neither does radio talk show host Dori Monson.
Before the 2009 election I wrote on this blog:
Nationally, though, 71 seems to be getting little attention at all, and for me I wonder if it goes back to the fact that Washington would call gay committed relationships “domestic partnerships” and not “marriage.” I get e-mails from one of the chief opponents of gay marriage and in the most recent correspondences there were mentions of efforts in Maine, Iowa, the District of Columbia and New York. On Washington? Zero.
It’s early yet, but the energy this time, three years later, feels different. The opposition last time was splintered. Do you think there are lots of voters out there who, like McKenna, supported 71 but would not support calling gay couples “married?” Does the word mean that much?