10-22-2016  4:39 pm      •     
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OLYMPIA—Dozens of people made emotional arguments during a public hearing Tuesday on a gay civil rights bill, with some insisting the measure was a long-overdue change to the state's anti-discrimination laws, and others contending it only creates special status for one group of people.

Some opponents argued that the measure would put an undue burden on business; others said it would create confusion for the state's children; one woman simply read from the Bible until the committee chair cut her off.

Supporters told the House State Government Operations & Accountability Committee hearing that all people deserve protection from discrimination in housing and jobs.

"It is not about quotas and it is not about affirmative action ... it is not about marriage," said state Rep. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, who has sponsored the bill for 11 years. "It is about citizens of this state who work hard and pay their taxes. They ask simply to be treated fairly."

The measure would add "sexual orientation" and "gender expression or identity" to a state law that already bans discrimination in housing, employment and insurance based on race, gender, age, disability, religion, marital status and other factors.

A Seattle attorney opposed to the measure said the bill was seen by some as an effort to impose one set of moral principals on others.

"This is not the same as the efforts in the civil rights era to stamp out discrimination against race and other historically protected groups," Steve O'Ban said. "This is a behavior-based classification."

The bill has been introduced — and rejected — annually for nearly 30 years in the Legislature.

The state House last year passed the bill 61-37, with six Republicans joining 55 Democrats in favor. But it lost by one vote in the Senate, where two Democrats, Jim Hargrove of Hoquiam and Tim Sheldon of Potlatch, joined 23 Republicans in defeating the bill.

The measure is believed to have a better chance of passage this year because Sen. Bill Finkbeiner, R-Kirkland, announced last week that he would switch his vote to yes.

Tuesday's hearing comes a day after a local pastor threatened a nationwide boycott of Microsoft Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co. and other businesses that have come out in support of a gay civil rights bill, saying the companies have underestimated the power of religious consumers.

The Rev. Ken Hutcherson, pastor of Antioch Bible Church in the east Seattle suburb of Redmond — also home to Microsoft — said he would officially make the call for the boycott Thursday on a national conservative talk radio show, "Focus on the Family."

"We're tired of sitting around thinking that morals can be ignored in our country," he said Monday.

Marilyn Cass, with the Catholic Parents Support Group, testified that 20 years ago, she received a note from her oldest son, telling her he was gay. She said that while several religious groups oppose the measure, her faith "compels me to advocate for fairness."

"For those individuals and groups who see the gay and lesbian members of our communities as a threat, look again and see the constellation of parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters and friends who stand behind them," she said. "You also judge and discriminate against us."

Last week, several companies, including Microsoft, Boeing Co., Hewlett Packard and Nike Inc., signed a letter urging passage of the bill.

Microsoft's support comes a year after it was denounced for quietly dropping support for it.

The only company represented at Tuesday's hearing was Hewlett-Packard, which had an official briefly testify in support of the measure.

Committee Chairwoman Kathy Haigh, D-Shelton, said that the bill was expected to pass out of committee on Wednesday. The bill could be on the House floor as early as this week.

The Associated Press

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