Tag Archives: Defense of Marriage Act

Same-sex marriage gains higher profile with governor’s backing

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.

State Rep. Sen. 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 didn’t.

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.

Gay marriage in Suquamish; What’s next and what’s in the past?

In covering the Suquamish same-sex marriage story, there were a few conversations that happened after deadline had passed. The story itself appears to be more of symbolic value than anything practical for now, because we haven’t heard of anyone banging down the doors of the tribe’s offices to actually get married.

Even Heather Purser said she just wants that option should she choose to get married later.

Where the story takes on some importance that could matter later is its place in the same-sex marriage movement generally and specifically among Indian tribes.

Brian Gilley, associate professor of anthropology at Indiana University, said the Suquamish Tribe is probably only the second federally recognized tribe to recognize same-sex marriage.

Some of the news that spread Tuesday was that most tribes don’t address it. That might be true, but a large number of tribes have actually passed measures similar to the federal government’s Defense of Marriage Act. That act doesn’t outright ban same-sex marriage, but it defines marriage as between one man and one woman.

The Suquamish Tribe’s willingness to take a different path than tribes nationally is in line with what tribes in the Pacific Northwest do, Gilley said. “It’s just sort of been their history to be different than the rest of Indian country,” he said.

Part of that, he said, is because the stakes are different for them here than they are in other parts of the country. The culture that surrounds the tribe and the possible consequences are different in Washington than they are, say, in Oklahoma.

The issue was huge within the Cherokee nation when two women received an application for a marriage license and were actually married, but then the tribe denied them the opportunity to actually register their marriage certificate. During that time is when Indian Tribes across the country created their DOMA-like standards.

Gilley figures largely in a story published on the Indian Country Media Network website. The writer says gay couples were not uncommon within tribes until Indians began adopting religious principles taught (or demanded of) them by the white people.

Leonard Forsman, Suquamish tribal chairman, said the issue that reached finality Monday wasn’t that big a deal. He confirmed Purser’s recollection that there was no opposition. That the ordinance change proceeded slowly was more a fact that other issues took precedence, not that there were any real naysayers.

“We had an existing marriage ordinance under code. It had to be updated. We’ve got a lot of ordinances that need updating,” he said.

Forsman said he hasn’t seen much written and there isn’t much oral history about same-sex couples in Suquamish history. That seems to be the case in other tribes, that there isn’t much institutional memory of same-sex couples, but backers of a “two-spirit” movement contend they had their role within the community. That fact that there may not be much tradition or oral passed along could be because tribes didn’t see it as a big deal until their new religious beliefs cast negative light on them.

Forsman said that might be why there isn’t much said in Suquamish history. “I think that tells us that it was not anything that was extremely abnormal or judged in the past,” he said.

One question that remains is whether a marriage of a gay couple will, in fact, be recognized in Washington. The state doesn’t marry same-sex couples, but it recognizes those marriages performed elsewhere. The question then becomes whether Suquamish, in this case, is “elsewhere.” It will take someone actually getting the Suquamish marriage to test that out.