Wash. lawmakers diverge on gay marriage debate

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) Top state lawmakers split Thursday on whether the Legislature should be taking votes on gay marriage during the state's budget crisis, with Republican leaders saying it will create an unnecessary distraction.

Speaking during the annual Associated Press Legislative Preview, Senate Republican Leader Mike Hewitt said the gay marriage debate would particularly create problems because Democratic budget negotiator Ed Murray is "vested in this personally." Murray is gay and a long-time proponent of expanding marriage to same-sex couples.

"We should leave the social agenda off from the Legislature this year," Hewitt said. "The last thing we need to do is be down here in turmoil over social issues."

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, countered that she believes lawmakers will have time to work on the issue and she believes the public is on board with it.

"This is the right time to move forward with marriage equality," she said.

Gov. Chris Gregoire renewed a broader discussion on gay marriage Wednesday as she publicly announced her support of the idea and acknowledging that she's been grappling with the issue for years. Lawmakers still need to close a roughly $1 billion budget shortfall, and Gregoire has separately proposed a temporary sales tax to offset cuts to education.