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Washington Same-Sex Marriage Bill Debate - January 20, 2012

January 21, 2012

A debate between Pastor Joe Fuiten, Cedar Park Church, and State Rep. Laurie Jinkins.;

Enrique: Pastor, let me begin with you, why are you in opposition to this legislation?

Pastor Joe Fuiten: Well, we have the domestic partnership law in this state, which provides for equality with domestic partners of homosexuals. So we've granted two homosexual couples every right that adheres to marriage already. So we don't really need to do this for any actual purpose, there's not going to be any additional rights that are conferred upon homosexual couples by passing this marriage issue. But it does stand to cause some serious problems for churches like mine, the discrimination aspects of this. They're labeling, refusing to marry gays as discrimination. First, you label it, then you criminalize it, then you penalize it. And so we see ourselves as at considerable danger by the passage of this bill. Obviously, we have schools as well as churches and institutions, christian institutions, that we think are going to be put at considerable legal jeopardy if this bill were to pass.

Enrique Cerna: Before we have a response here from the representative, let me ask you, in response to the discrimination aspect of this, but there seems to be a growing movement in America from polling that shows that same sex marriage is something that more and more Americans are willing to accept.

Pastor Joe Fuiten: Well, it's true. We're now at 43% here in Washington state who believe that they should be treated equally. Last year, it was 41%. So we're not yet at a majority according to the Washington poll at least. And so you know, if it's not a majority, then why should we do it? We don't have consensus in this state. That's what ought to happen across the country, we don't have consensus. I mean we happen to be further along that path in many other states or in other regions. But you know, it's liberals and democrats who support this. Religious people, overwhelmingly, do not support it. Republicans don't support it. And so unless you're a liberal democrat, you're not likely to be inclined toward approving of same sex marriage. So we have a minority in this state who want it. So why should it be imposed?

Enrique Cerna All right. State representative lori Jenkins, I'll give you an opportunity to respond to that.

Laurie Jinkins: There's a lot to respond to there. Let me start off by talking about why marriage is important. I think that marriage is a universally understood concept, everyone in the world pretty much understands what a marriage is, and they understand that separate is not equal. So setting up some sort of separate system like domestic partnerships are not the same as marriage. And actually, one very practical issue has to do with the fact that when you go in to get, you have some health emergency or something like that with your family, you don't want to be in a situation where you have to explain to somebody what a domestic partnership is. If you say that you're married, everyone understands what that relationship is, they understand the law of the commitment, the devotion that has happened in that family. And they understand who the decision makers are. So that's a very, I think, important reason for us to move toward marriage. I would say one of the things that the pastor and I do agree on is it's very important that we maintain our first amendment protections for religious freedom. The bill is drafted, does that, and does it very, very well. We have always been very clear that no church should have to marry any couple that they don't want to marry. And actually, we have a very long history, both in Washington state and throughout the country, of seeing that be the case. For example, many catholic priests and the catholic church doesn't marry people who have been divorced. They're not forced to do that. Other faiths don't want to marry interfaith couples, they are not forced to do that. Likewise under this bill, these bills in the house and Senate, no church will be required and no pastor or person of faith will be required to marry a couple that they don't want to marry.

Pastor Joe Fuiten: That's not actually true. Because there's a severe threat in this law, which says you don't have to unless you meet certain qualifications. And the qualifications in the discrimination clause are so low, that if you sell food or drink to be consumed on the premises, so like you have a pop machine or you have coffee, or if you rent your church for weddings, which almost every church in Washington state does, that you make it available to the people in general to be able to rent it. So the fact is that there is this pretty severe threat in this legislation against churches. And a church like mine that I pastor, we would probably come under attack from 20 different avenues at least, because we qualify in so many ways under that discrimination code. So to say that there is a protection for ministers, or for churches, is entirely false. There's a severe threat in the legislation, when you say you won't be subject to civil response or cause of action unless, you want to pay attention to the "unless" part of that. So they basically threaten us. And the bill lays out the conditions, some of the conditions under which a church could be sued under this.

Enrique Cerna: A response.

Laurie Jinkins: I guess what I would say is the bill specifically says no pastor, no member of a clergy has to perform a wedding, has to solommize any wedding they don't want to. No church has to host a wedding. And there's been no intent ever, I think we've always been very clear that no church who doesn't want to host a same sex wedding should have to do that. So if there's tweaking that has to occur to the language to make sure that that's very clear, if there's confusion about that, then I'm sure that will be cleared up. So my question is, if that's cleared up, do you support it? Will you support it?

Pastor Joe Fuiten: Well, tweaking it is one thing and changing it is another. We've never had discrimination in the marriage code of Washington, it's never been mentioned there before. But under this bill, it would be mentioned there. So now, we have the threat of discrimination lawsuits against churches in the marriage code of Washington. That's never been there before, and it wasn't in previous proposals. And so I'm just wondering, what is it about this law that you want to coerce or the legislation, not saying you personally, but the legislation wants to coerce a church into cooperating with gay marriage? We don't support it. It's against our religious faith. And if you have those kind of threats in the legislation, is a problem.

Enrique Cerna: Your response.

Laurie Jinkins: So I mean, I guess I just really respectfully disagree with you. And if you look over the discussion about marriage and same sex marriage, it's always been very, very clear. No one has ever said that they wanted, at least no one in the legislature, no one kind of in leadership has said that they want to force churches to marry folks that they don't want to marry. And frankly, my partner and I, we've been together for 23 years, we have no interest in going to a church that doesn't want to marry us and forcing them to do that. So the issue is if there's some lack of clarity in the bill right now for you, or for others, and I think we'll certainly be willing to look at that. But my question, again, is if we address that, and take churches completely out of this, then you're okay? Is that the issue?

Pastor Joe Fuiten:No. That is an issue for sure.

Enrique Cerna: But it's not the only issue?

Pastor Joe Fuiten: Well, exactly. It's the immediate threat in this legislation for sure. You know, in Hawaii, the courts just ruled against a church like I pastor that they have to host those kind of events. And so that just happened last week. And we're very concerned that that's how this will be used. In this state. You don't put out into the code, and for the first time in history, discrimination in the marriage code of Washington, unless you intend to use it, unless you intend to use that discrimination clause to leverage. We face it now, for example, in our schools. We had to get a waiver from the department of early learning so that we wouldn't have to hire homosexuals in our preschool. Okay, we got a waiver, we're not automatically exempt, we had to get a waiver, but they specifically wrote in the waiver that churches would be, you would have to comply with that, have to hire homosexuals in your school if it becomes a matter of discrimination. So once this gets labeled as discrimination, then it starts impacting our school. Because now, we can't hire people according to our religious tenets, but we have to do, meet somebody's idea of political correctness, and so this bill, even though it's only a marriage bill, only, I mean it opens up the issue to our schools, where right now, we have a waiver. The code requires us to get a waiver.

Enrique Cerna: Let her respond.

So I've actually forgotten the first point I was going to make, or actually, it's about Hawaii. And actually, again, I respectfully disagree with the reverend about this. The case in Hawaii was actually the court's ruling that they would not issue a temporary restraining order for the domestic partnership laws in the state of Hawaii to go into effect. So I don't think that's the correct characterization of the law. But secondly, you know, just this week, our supreme court, the highest court in the land, again, reaffirmed the first amendment right of churches to fire anybody that they want to fire, that the antidiscrimination laws in this country do not apply to churches and jobs. One of the things I think we keep on mixing up here is this state does have an antidiscrimination law, and there have been attempts to repeal that, and none of them have ever been successful. That's one thing. This is about civil marriage and whether or not the state is going to allow and recognize same sex couples to marry. And we are, I think, we're working very hard to make sure churches are not affected by this.

Enrique Cerna: As I mentioned in the introduction to this segment, that is that some major companies in this state, Microsoft, real networks, Nike, group health cooperative, several others, sent a letter saying that they are in support of this same sex marriage legislation. And in fact, they believe it would actually be helpful to the state in there response.

Pastor Joe Fuiten: I looked on the site of the 70 businesses that are supporting this. We had the cha cha lounge and the Bimbo Cafe and the hillside quickie restaurant on this auspicious list.

Enrique Cerna: Have you heard of them before?

Pastor Joe Fuiten: No, I haven't. I just thought, wow, bimbo Cafe is one of the businesses that supports this legislation. That's clearly an argument for having it.

Enrique Cerna: Well, I don't know. But I guess the point being in bringing that up, again, comes back to, you mentioned it, that as the Washington poll has shown, if you look at the growth and the percentage of people that are saying that they are open to same sex marriage, that the percentage seems to be growing, and the fact that even some republicans in the Senate, at least two so far, have said that they will support this.

Pastor Joe Fuiten: Well, the republicans aren't necessarily the party of God. And so yeah, we're at 43%.

Enrique Cerna: Do they know that?

Pastor Joe Fuiten: Yeah, they do actually. We're at 43% who support gay marriage in this state. So why is that an argument for having it? And you know, I understand Microsoft, we want them to be successful, I'm sorry that Microsoft and Nike are not successful companies, that they haven't been able to function well under the current law, and that we need this in order for them to survive. I mean this is a joke, of course. It's absurd. And so these are companies that want to support it. I presume. I haven't seen it, haven't seen it on their website, but I take the representative's word for it that they've supported it, or your word for it. I've read it. But you know, we should make our decision. We have given all the rights of marriage to same sex couples in this state, all of them. This legislation will confer no additional rights upon same sex couples. So what are we gaining? But by doing it, we are all, we are putting at risk churches like mine, and our religious freedom.

Enrique Cerna: Okay. Let me bring it over here. And I guess you mentioned that you have a partner, and I guess personally, what does this mean to you then?

Laurie Jinkins: Well, my partner and I have been together for, we're actually going to have our 23rd anniversary in the next couple of weeks. And we have an 11 year old son. I just, it's just kind of it means a lot to our family, it means a lot to our son. And there are a lot of other families that it means a lot to out there. I just, it's kind of funny, a couple weeks ago, I mentioned to him, wow, we might be able to get married a year from now. What do you think about that? And it was a school morning before he went to school. And he looked at me and said, well, I'd have to take a half a day off of school if you were to get married. And then he realized he underbargained and asked for a whole day off school. But there are a lot more families out there that this means something to. And I think it means something to the entire state of Washington. Frankly, in the difficult times we're in right now, we should be doing things to strengthen every single family in this state. And when people think about being married, it's not about the legal rights that they have or the contractual rights that they have by being married. It's about the love and commitment that they've made and the commitment that they've made to a family. And that's what's most important about this bill this year.

Enrique Cerna: Let me ask you this question, pastor. One vote away in the Senate, and obviously, the senator ed Murray who sponsored this, who is gay, has also fought hard to get protections for gays in the state of Washington. Noted that it took him I don't know how many years to get the one vote for civil protections. What will you do if this eventually is passed through the legislature?

Pastor Joe Fuiten: The only thing different, I mean I'll continue pastoring my church and doing my best. I mean I don't take my queues from Olympia on this subject. I'll still preach what I preach, I won't change that at.

Enrique Cerna: Will you be part of a repeal?

Pastor Joe Fuiten: Oh, absolutely. It will have to be part of a referendum. I think we can win in a referendum. This is not domestic partnerships, this is about marriage. So it's different. It's not about equality and all that, but it's about the institution of marriage and what we know it to be. So that's quite a different thing. And I noticed in the legislation that they talk about commitment and exclusivity in the relationships, that's actually in the bill. But when you look at the durability of these relationships, her relationship, 23 years. That's exceptionally rare actually. The average male couple stays together 4.5 years. And so the difference, most gay relationships are going to be over by 60 some percent are going to be over inside of 7 years. So when we talk about exclusivity and commitment, it's not much of a commitment when you can only endure for 7 years.

Enrique Cerna: We'll give her the final word. We're running out of time here.

Laurie Jinkins: I would just note that the states that have same sex marriage have among the lowest divorce rates in the country. And I'm not sure heterosexuality is among the lengths of marriage. So that's a whole another debate to have. I just think the support that's building for this. We talked about the Washington poll. I could talk about that for a long time, but it shows that over half of Washington voters actually support marriage. So we're looking forward to this discussion continuing in the legislature and hoping for a positive result.

Enrique Cerna: And I appreciate both of you taking the time to have this discussion here and making it through the weather this week and to get here today to do this.