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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
February 3, 2006

Washington is 17th state to pass an equal rights law

Olympia, Washington--Gov. Christine Gregoire signed a bill on January 31 to make her state the 17th to bar discrimination based on sexual orientation, and the eighth to outlaw it for transgender people.

Gregoire signed House Bill 2661 after the state senate passed it on January 27.

The bill had fallen in that chamber by one vote last year. It has been in the legislature in some form for 29 years.

"Prohibiting discrimination knows no political party,� Gregoire said before signing the bill. �We would not be here today if not for the valiant efforts of members of both chambers--Republicans and Democrats, alike--working together."

The new measure adds sexual orientation--defined to include �gender expression or identity�--to the civil rights law covering housing, employment, insurance and credit. It takes effect 90 days from the end of the legislative session, June 7.

However, a perennial initiative sponsor has vowed to block it from taking effect by filing a referendum to repeal the law and an initiative to gut it and any other pro-gay measure.

Tim Eyman has the same 90 days to gather 112,440 signatures for his referendum. If he does, the measure will be suspended and put onto the November ballot.

Eyman, whose main claim to fame in Washington state revolves around his conservative efforts to lessen taxation, filed paperwork on January 30 for his two measures.

The second one is an initiative to specify that sexual orientation or �sexual preference� cannot be used to create quotas or provide �preferential treatment.� It would also bar sexual orientation or �sexual preference� from being made a protected class.

The initiative requires 224,880 signatures to be submitted by July 7 for the November ballot.

�The people do not support preferential treatment because the people do not want it to be used as a basis for requiring the legalization of same-sex marriage,� Eyman wrote on his website.

However, the issue of same-sex marriage is already being considered by the Washington Supreme Court, and a decision could be handed down any day based on state constitutional arguments. The law that Gregoire signed is not a constitutional amendment and has no effect on the Supreme Court�s ruling.

"I just hope we can keep this law in effect,� said former State Sen. Pete Francis, who first introduced a gay civil right bill in 1977. �There's a real big battle coming now. It's not over. This is a major step and something we can be very proud of, but it's certainly not over."

Ohio has no law barring discrimination by sexual orientation and neither does the federal government. Outside of the 17 states that now have one are another 84 cities and counties with them, including 11 in Ohio. Together they cover almost half of the United States population, 49% once the Washington measure takes effect.



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