When I wrote the story last week about Heather Purser, who lobbied to get same-sex marriages licensed and recognized within the Suquamish Tribe, it was done with the idea that the issue could be a big one in the upcoming legislative session. Gov. Chris Gregoire’s decision to put forward her own bill now guarantees it.
As part of the story the interviews included discussions about the possible political realities and addressed questions that were not part of the piece on Heather. A story has its focus, and that one was more about her and her possible upcoming role. This might be a good time to discuss some of those other conversations.
We should start with some of the arguments against expanding marriage rights. Two Republican state legislators’ e-mails arrived in my inbox. State Rep. Matt Shea of Spokane Valley said he was surprised the governor and Democrats were making this an issue when the state was still in a budget crisis. He referenced how people have taken advantage of the state’s domestic partnership rules.
State Sen. Val Stevens of Arlington was more direct about the issue itself:
“Marriage between one man and one woman gives strength to society. Marriage and the family, instituted since the beginning of time, is the cornerstone of our nation and gives stability in our society. Children look to their mother and father to teach them family principles, which gives them a foundation to become contributing members of society.
“Same-sex marriage will erode that foundation. It will undermine the value that is statistically upheld for children being parented by a mother and father.
“Domestic partnership claimed to be the goal of the homosexual community, in order to give them the legal foundation they claimed was needed. However, only one-quarter of one percent of Washington citizens have taken advantage of the domestic partnership legislation passed in 2009. But now they want marriage.
“This is a tactic to divert attention from the emergent issue of the state’s financial crisis.
“The Washington State Constitution protects freedom of conscience and our religious heritage. I will oppose this legislative proposal for the sake of maintaining our stable society.”
That third paragraph was a particular point I addressed with Joshua Friedes, director of marriage equality for Equal Rights Washington. I asked if Washington voters approved the “Everything but Marriage” measure in 2009, don’t gay and lesbian couples already enjoy all the same legal protections that straight couples do. He said it hasn’t worked out that way.
People pressed with legalities and policies and rules understand what “marriage” offers someone, particularly in a crisis situation. They can’t be assumed to understand what rights a “domestic partner” has, he said. The classic example of gay couples not being able to exercise decisions or even visitations in hospitals still exists, he said, even if the law has changed in their favor.
The bigger stumbling blocks are with federal rules, he said. Gay couples don’t get the same benefits straight married couples do when it comes to taxes and Social Security benefits, he said. Providing marriage rights to gay and lesbian couples won’t change that, he said, but it will send a message.
“What’s important is Washington will be making clear for the first time that gay and lesbian families deserve the same rights as other families. That in itself is very important. We will have equal dignity in Washington state as we continue to work for the federal rights and responsibilities,” Friedes said.
And, he continued, the federal government’s Defense of Marriage Act is bound to fall. When it does, Washington gay and lesbian couples would be among the first to benefit if marriage rights are extended.
Christine Rolfes, a Bainbridge Island Democrat, will support a
same-sex marriage bill and protections for religious institutions
to be sure the churches are not forced into supporting something
they are opposed to. I asked if she knew of any ways churches had
been harmed by same-sex marriage laws in other places, and she
The website for PBS NewsHour show sheds some light. Every expert takes time to illustrate that churches won’t have to marry same-sex couples, which when you’ve read that for the sixth time gets old. There are ways, however, that churches could be affected. Churches that deliver services to the public could be targeted if they’re found to be denying them based on marriages it doesn’t recognize. There are issues of health benefits for employees and hiring practices generally. Another site pointed to a lawsuit in New Jersey in which the owner (a church) of a park site, didn’t want to allow a same-sex marriage ceremony to be performed by someone renting space.
For Friedes I asked the question if they weren’t afraid the same-sex issue wouldn’t have the same impact some thought it had in 2004. Many states had measures they called, “Defense of Marriage” initiatives or ballot items and some thought it helped get George W. Bush re-elected, because it ignited a base on the right that might otherwise have skipped the election. Were that to happen in Washington, would it hurt the chances of Jay Inslee, who supports same-sex marriage, in his run for governor against Rob McKenna, who is against it? Friedes said he thinks public sentiment has changed dramatically in the eight years since that election. And, he said, they’re working to get the measure passed in the Legislature. He has no delusions that it wouldn’t likely end up on the November ballot anyway in the form of a referendum. But, he said, what was a wedge issue for the right has in the last eight years become a wedge issue for the left.