Tag Archives: Same-sex marriage

Gay marriage Washington: Why now?

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.

Kitsap Marriage Alliance responds to Monday’s gay marriage hearing

Brynn writes:

When news broke that Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, would support a Senate bill legalizing same-sex marriage, I was asked by my editors to call our local supporters and opponents of the measure to get a reaction. Haugen’s announcement gives the Senate the votes it needs to pass the measure, which has become the most high-profile issue before the Legislature during this short session.

I was able to reach Marcie Mathis, co-chair of the Kitsap Pride Network, but I had no luck getting in touch with the three members of the Kitsap Marriage Alliance’s leadership team. I left phone messages and emails, but I had already left for the day before one of them got back to me.

Because I want to fairly represent both sides of the issue, I am posting leadership member Chris Moore’s response via email that he sent me on the issue. Moore was in Olympia yesterday for the hearings. He estimated there were around 50 people from the 23rd Legislative District that he knew at the hearing.

Here’s Moore’s email to me:


“On behalf of Kitsap Marriage Alliance, I would say that we are disappointed but not surprised. We anticipate that there will be a referendum drive and we will be actively engaged in collecting signatures.”

While in Olympia Moore’s group met with Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, and Rep. Sherry Appleton, D-Poulsbo, to discuss the legislation. Moore said they talked about setting up a meeting with Rolfes and Appleton similar to the one the alliance held Jan. 9 at the Gateway Fellowship church where Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, and other anti-gay marriage advocates spoke about the need to voice opposition against the proposed bills.

During the meeting the legislators would make themselves available to discuss their views and would make themselves available to questions from constituents. Moore said his group will “actively seek to schedule such a meeting for some time after the current session closes.”

When a date has been set, I’ll let you know about it.

Rob McKenna on gay marriage, working with Democrats, health care . . .

This picture is upside down. These mirrors and lights were on the ceiling, so in reality the people in them appeared to heels over head. This was a shot from Rob McKenna's visit visit the CK GOP Women Thursday.
Gay marriage did not come up in the two Rob McKenna events I attended Thursday. The most likely place all day it would have was with the Central Kitsap Republican Women.

During the business round table McKenna hosted in the evening he spoke with me as the small groups conversed. His main point on gay marriage is that it is inevitably going to go before voters, and that if Washington is going to change its policy that it should be voters who make that call.

McKenna said he voted for the domestic partnership law in 2009, which was supposed to give same-sex couples registered as domestic partners all the same rights the state allows married couples. If it isn’t working out that way, he said, then the state should address where a gay couples’ rights are being denied and fix it. He said it is not a constitutional issue, that the courts have upheld the state’s definition of marriage. “I support traditional marriage,” he said. “It’s a policy question. Do we want to redefine marriage?”

On his points about reforming workers’ compensation laws, Labor & Industries, health care, liability laws, I asked him where he thought he would get the most buy-in from the Legislature should both houses remain Democratic. He said the Legislature has already initiated some reform with workers’ comp, but that a move to privatize the insurance might be controversial. He said it doesn’t have to be for-profit insurers competing, that it could be limited to non-profits. He said Washington system is failing employees and employers because of the monopoly in place now.

McKenna also said he would think introducing tools like tax-increment financing (now unconstitutional) might be doable as well. A form of it is already in place in Gig Harbor with St. Anthony’s Hospital and in Bremerton with the parking garage that will be topped by a movie theater.

In health care he and Inslee are on the same page that Medicare reimbursements should be based on results rather than how many services are provided. Governors, McKenna said, would need to band together to influence the federal government to make those changes, that they already have successfully in some cases.

During lunch one in attendance said he thought McKenna’s chances of being successful in his challenge of the mandate portion of health care reform were great. I asked him if he was as optimistic. “I think the odds . . . are 5-4.” It only took me about 10 seconds to get the joke. Whatever happens, it won’t be surprising if the U.S. Supreme Court votes 5-4 one way or the other.

Back on the gay marriage issue I asked, in a roundabout way, if having it on a ballot favors him or Jay Inslee in the governor’s race. It’s something I addressed in the last paragraph of an earlier blog post about same-sex marriage. McKenna said there is a lot of debate about it, that he doesn’t know. In 2004 Republican Dino Rossi might have won the election had it been on the ballot in Washington as it was in other states. But many supporters of same-sex marriage rights believe public sentiment has shifted enough that it might work in Democrats’ favor now.

I’m not certain we’re going to find out. If the Legislature does pass a bill granting marriage to same-sex couples, I believe the question will end up on a ballot. Getting enough signatures will not be that difficult, I predict, especially because getting a referendum to undo a legislative action requires half the signatures a regular initiative does.

In either case, I tend to believe both sides would be able to gather enough signatures to get something ready for an election, but I’m not as certain gay marriage proponents will launch an initiative if the Legislature doesn’t act this session.

Initiative 71, the 2009 “Everything but Marriage” referendum, passed with 53.15 percent support. McKenna said he supported it, but he doesn’t want to call it “marriage.” Neither does radio talk show host Dori Monson.

Before the 2009 election I wrote on this blog:

Nationally, though, 71 seems to be getting little attention at all, and for me I wonder if it goes back to the fact that Washington would call gay committed relationships “domestic partnerships” and not “marriage.” I get e-mails from one of the chief opponents of gay marriage and in the most recent correspondences there were mentions of efforts in Maine, Iowa, the District of Columbia and New York. On Washington? Zero.

It’s early yet, but the energy this time, three years later, feels different. The opposition last time was splintered. Do you think there are lots of voters out there who, like McKenna, supported 71 but would not support calling gay couples “married?” Does the word mean that much?

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.