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
“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
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
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.