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Kitsap County business split on gay marriage bill

Some businesses in the Kitsap County wedding industry have been catering to gay couples for years. With The same-sex-marriage bill  that quickly gained momentum in Olympia they are anticipating more business.

The bill was expected to pass into law following Wednesday’s Senate vote, according to Sen. Christine Rolfes.

The bill is opposed by Bremerton churches and getting mixed reactions from Kitsap County business owners who are unsure of how the change will affect the way they do business.

Though religious organizations are exempt from performing gay marriages, renting out event space or otherwise accommodating same-sex marriages if their religious practices prevent them from doing so, regular businesses, such as florists, wedding planners and photographers are not exempt.

“There are anti-discrimination laws in place already that make it illegal for a business not to serve someone based on their sexual orientation, so that is already taken care of with or without the bill. And the bill does not excuse these businesses from that,” said Donna Bezon, spokeswoman for Rep. Sherry Appleton.

The bill passed the House Judiciary Committee Jan. 30 with a 7-6 vote in  and faced a full senate debate and vote Wednesday.

Passing Senate Bill 6239 and companion House Bill 2516 would make Washington state the seventh state to allow same-sex-married couples the same rights of married heterosexual couples. It would provide for out-of-state gay marriages and automatically convert state domestic partnerships into civil marriages after two years.

American Rose Bridal, a formal wear and accessories shop in Poulsbo, said that they have had a fair number of same-sex couples shop in their store for special events and ceremonies.

“I was just thinking the other day that we could see an increase,” said Lynanne White, owner of American Rose Bridal.

Deborah Cates, a bridal consultant at Benita’s in Silverdale, said that sexual orientation does not factor into the way that she conducts sales.

“What business is it of mine how you live your personal life? My job is to get you dressed the way you want for your special day in whatever style you want,” said Cates. The consultant said that she has many different requests for formal wear from her clients which ranged from “very traditional” to “garden” or “cutting edge.”

However, there are some business owners in the wedding industry that are opposed to the legislation and what it might mean for them. DJ Scott Fijolek of Silverdale said that he has had two requests in the past for events by gay couples that he turned down because of his “religious beliefs.”

“I did a lot of research in the Bible and through my church and everything led to me deciding that it would not be good for me to cater that,” said Fijolek.

Fijolek said that he believes that the legislation would mean “more marriages and more business” for the wedding industry in Kitsap County but still opposes it as a business owner.

Our Lady Star of the Sea Catholic parish in Bremerton is also a vocal opponent of the legislation and released a letter to the members of its congregation last week explaining its stance.

The letter argued that mothers and fathers who procreate make an “irreplaceable contribution” to society that the state should recognize these sacrifices through “a distinct category of laws.”

Rep. Appleton’s office argued that the bill is not a religious matter but a civil rights issue. She said that while gays and lesbians pay the same taxes to the state they cannot take advantage of the 1,138 federal tax exemptions offered to those in a civil marriage.

“Especially during the economic downturn, allowing more families to access the protections of civil marriage and ensuring all families live with as much certainty and dignity as possible makes sense,” said Sen. Derek Kilmer.

Rabbi Sarah Newmark of Congregation Beth Hatikvah in Bremerton said that while the synagogue does not take a political stance, she is a member of the Washington Coalition of Rabbis which is in support of the legislation. She said that she donates a portion of her ceremony fee from every wedding she performs to the organization.

No couple, gay or straight, has been married in the synagogue itself because “it’s a rather small sanctuary,” said Newmark.

“But again, for me, should the same-sex marriage law pass in Washington state,” Newmark said. “If there was an objection by synagogue leaders to my performing a same-sex wedding in our Sanctuary, I would not find my continuing as a Rabbi at CBH to be a good fit.”

There is a “small but dedicated” community of gays in Kitsap County who are counting on the legislation, according to Kim McKoy, executive director of the Kitsap AIDS Foundation who also runs a lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender center for youth.

“The community has been, for the most part, always low key,” McKoy said. “Most are just quietly living their lives with their partners, but couples really do want this.”

The state recognizes domestic partnerships between same-sex couples. However, Gov. Chris Gregoire has said that this is a form of “separate but equal” which is unacceptable. She calls the move to marriage equality the “next step in anti-discrimination legislation.”

Karl Urseth, a Bremerton resident, said that he is celebrating his 25th year with his domestic partner this month. He said that the legislation would “prove the legitimacy of our relationship which has outlasted that of most people we know.”

Urseth said that while domestic partnerships in Washington state are “not dissimilar” from civil marriages, there nonetheless, is the intent to make sure there is a difference between “us” and “them” in the language of the law. He said that many people he knows oppose same-sex marriage not because it would “lessen” the institution of straight marriage but because it would actively condone his relationship.

“Love is so rare these days,” Bezon said. “Any couples in lasting relationships building a family should be recognized by the state.”

 

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