Washington State ferry Kennewick

The state ferry Kennewick maneuvers at the Port Townsend docks in early January 2012 in preparation for a dedication ceremony. (FILE/Tri-City Herald)

RICHLAND — If state Rep. Brad Klippert has his way, no other flags besides the Stars and Stripes, the Washington state flag and maritime signal flags will fly over state ferries.

The Kennewick Republican has introduced a bill that would end the state ferry system’s practice of occasionally flying other flags. They have included “12” flags in support of the Seattle Seahawks and the one that raised Klippert’s ire, a rainbow-striped flag symbolizing gay pride.

“I have no problem with the Seahawks flag,” Klippert told the Tri-City Herald on Wednesday. “People across all policy beliefs support our Seahawks, but that is not true for gay pride flags.”

Ferries owned by the citizens of Washington state should refrain from any partisan actions, he said. He considers flying the gay pride flag last summer a partisan act, given the state vote for same-sex marriage.

Nearly 54 percent of Washington voters approved Initiative 74 in 2012, saying same-sex marriage should be legal in the state. But 62 percent of Benton County residents rejected the initiative. Voters in only one Eastern Washington county, Whitman, favored the measure.

The gay pride flag was flown on the two ferries serving Seattle to Bainbridge Island and Seattle to Bremerton in June, just as a divided Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples had a fundamental right to marry.

But arrangements had been made to fly the flag before the Supreme Court ruling was made, said Ian Sterling, spokesman for Washington State Ferries.

The agency had been asked to fly the flag on vessels that serve Seattle for the city’s Pride weekend. It is one of the city’s largest community events, and the agency agreed.

Seattle PrideFest 2015 was attended by 200,000 people who came out to celebrate nationwide marriage equality, according to the event’s web page.

The rainbow flag also has been flown on the campus of the Washington Capitol, Gov. Jay Inslee’s office confirmed.

It was displayed for a time last year in the flag circle between the Legislative Building and the Temple of Justice where the Washington Supreme Court convenes.

The U.S. and state flags are flown there, with an occasional third flag that has included the prisoner of war flag, the “12” flag, flags to honor visiting foreign dignitaries and the Washington State University flag, which was flown at half staff when WSU President Elson Floyd died.

Klippert said that when he heard the state ferry system was flying the gay pride flag last summer, he contacted Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama, the ranking minority member of the House Transportation Committee.

Together, they called the director of the Washington State Department of Transportation and the director of the ferry systems to ask that they be taken down, Klippert said. The answer was no.

Klippert filed the bill because “a simple, polite phone call was not enough to stop the behavior,” he said.

Klippert, a Benton County Sheriff’s deputy and school resource officer in Benton City, is the only sponsor listed on the bill as posted on the state website. He said he wanted to get the bill introduced as early as possible, rather than spend time adding sponsors, because the legislative session is scheduled for just 60 days.

The state ferry system does not have a written policy for flying flags, Sterling said.

Special flags are flown at the discretion of the assistant secretary of ferries for the Washington State Department of Transportation. There also may be some involvement by the governor, such as an order to fly flags at half staff.

Klippert also is sponsoring a bill that would retroactively protect businesses that choose not to provide services for same-sex marriages.

He is one of dozens of co-sponsors on another bill intended to override a new state rule requiring that transgender people be allowed to use public restrooms and locker rooms for the gender by which they identify.

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