Last night, the Washington State Senate passed Senate Bill 6239 last night, a bill that would allow same-sex couples to marry in the state of Washington if passed by the House and signed by the Governor. However, I’m not writing on the subject matter of the bill, I’m writing on the civility of the debate. Having worked in the Washington State Senate for five legislative sessions, I’ve seen my fair share of debates. Some good, some bad, and some downright ugly. The ugly debates usually center around hot button issues and usually aren’t any better than kids calling each other names ont the playground.
Last night’s debate on SB 6239 was amazing for its civility. It was also amazing as a statement of how far the Senate has come in the last 6 years. In 2006, the debate over House Bill 2661, which added sexual orientation to the list of protected classes under civil rights laws, was an example of the ugly. There was name calling, scare tactics, and hyperbole on both sides of the issue. It was a sad example of political debate. The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 25-23, which is the minimum number of votes a bill can get and pass.
Contrast that with last night’s debate on SB 6239, which was respectful, filled with decorum, and an example of what a good debate should be. Senators who supported and opposed the bill got up, made reasonable arguments for their case and sat down. They didn’t engage in scare tactics, fear mongering, or hyperbole. It was an amazing sight. I was particularly impressed with the lack of any parliamentary games or fights over amendments. Twelve amendments were offered, some were passed and defeated by voice votes, and some on roll calls. There were no parliamentary games or delaying tactics. The opposition, didn’t use the rules of the Senate to attempt to slow the bill down, which is their right. They conformed to the practices of the body and let the bill move forward.
Regardless of how you feel about the subject matter contained in the bill, it was a good night for our representative democracy.