At least one radio talker thinks the Legislature is trying to get gay marriage passed to distract the citizens from the state budget, which has a hole in it. The argument makes for audacious radio and gay marriage is one issue that can divert an Olympia watcher’s attention. But the budget will get its time in the sun beginning in mid February when the latest economic forecast comes out. And there are at least three more rational reasons why legislators would want to push the marriage issue this year.
If you support same-sex marriage, then you want to try to avoid an election. Voters can be an unpredictable lot and I haven’t seen compelling evidence to predict a win for either side. By getting the Legislature to pass the measure without sending it to voters, it forces opponents to do what’s necessary to get it on the ballot. A referendum on the Legislature is not as difficult as a grass roots initiative, because it only requires half the signatures. Nonetheless, opponents are forced to get organized and get people to sign. If for whatever reason they don’t succeed, the law goes into effect on June 7.
Assuming opponents do succeed, and I think they will, this is the year you want this on the ballot. David Ammons from the Washington Secretary of State’s office said big turnout elections are the best for Democrats. Left-leaning voters will show up to vote for President Obama and his re-election and while they’re at it they will join libertarian-leaning righties and vote to allow gays to marry. Traditionally liberals would be less likely to vote at all if this were not a presidential year. I’m not sure that’s true here, because in 2010 Washington Democrats did very well in getting out the vote compared to the rest of the country. Overall, though, a presidential election year should be even better.
Another reason this is your best shot for a while is there is no guarantee your side is going to maintain the majority in Olympia in the coming years, especially in the Senate. You had to push to get the 25 votes you needed as it was. And Republican Rob McKenna, who opposes gay marriage, may very well be your governor next year if he beats Democrat Jay Inslee, who supports it. McKenna would probably veto the same bill you’re going to send to Chris Gregoire this year and you certainly won’t have the votes to override him. You would have to bypass him and send it to voters. And having voters decide is something you’re only reluctantly accepting, because you might have to.
If ever there was a good time to make a first try, 2012 is it.
And I think I can make the next point without shedding any of my Olympic objectivity. To some degree gay marriage would seem to be an inevitability in Washington. I can see pockets across the U.S. that will hold out for years, but this place is not one of them. As younger people become voters it is going to be harder and harder for opponents to hold this off.
If that point doesn’t set well with you, take comfort in the fact that I have been so wrong in reading the tea leaves in the past. I thought Barack Obama wouldn’t run in 2008.
Assuming opponents do get the question on the ballot, we are in for an advertising and street-corner campaign season the likes of which we have never seen.