Could the passage of same-sex marriage in New York state bring marriage equality to Washington state?
by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
Marriage equality is a very touchy subject to many people. Evidence of this could be found earlier this week, as New York legislators slaved over the wording used to outline same-sex marriage in their state. Still, in the end, in a historic June 24 vote, the New York State Senate voted to legalize same-sex marriage in the state.
New York joins five other states that make marriage inclusive to all committed couples, regardless of their sexual orientation.
The New York marriage equality bill was carefully crafted. There is no doubt that this is a big win for supporters of same-sex marriage (across the globe) and that New York, along with the other states before it, set the precedent for what is correct and just in our society.
In short, this is a monumental and momentous win, one that should not be taken lightly.
Within hours of the New York vote, many Washingtonians, especially in the Seattle area, asked, 'If they can have marriage equality in New York, why can't we have it in Washington?'
In other words, was New York the tipping point? Could the Empire State be the domino we've all been hoping for, the one which will knock down all the others across the U.S., finally ridding the nation of discriminatory anti-Gay marriage laws? And what about Washington? Could we, like New York, join in holy same-sex matrimony?
Hold your horses, say some Washington politicians and lobbyists on the marriage-equality frontlines. Not just yet, they say.
'Everybody is asking the question of whether New York was the tipping point,' Josh Friedes, executive director of Equal Rights Washington (ERW), told Seattle Gay News. 'When it comes to the struggle for securing marriage equality, I'm not exactly sure what the term 'tipping point' means.'
Friedes said that it has been clear for quite some time that momentum is with the LGBT civil rights movement. 'Momentum has been building since the Hawaii lawsuit was filed two decades ago,' he said. 'What I think New York represents is an incredible acceleration in the process.'
New York is an economic driver, he said. 'To stay competitive in recruiting workers, my belief is that major corporations based outside of New York will become allies in the struggle for marriage equality,' continued Friedes. 'My prediction is that companies like Microsoft, Starbucks, Boeing, Amazon, and Vulcan will be more supportive and engaged in calling for marriage equality so that they can be competitive in recruiting the most talented workers.'
According to Friedes, New York is going to put huge pressure on the federal government to end the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
'The federal government is putting a giant burden on the New York state government by refusing to provide Gay families with the protections they have earned such as Social Security survivors' benefits, veterans' benefits, and so on,' he told SGN. 'New York does not want to, nor should it have to provide a safety net to surviving spouses because they are being impoverished by the federal government that is denying them the Social Security or pensions they deserve.'
'New York is home to the Statue of Liberty. Now this icon is associated with marriage equality, and I don't think one can overestimate the importance [of] New York in the American psyche,' said Friedes. 'I guess my belief is that if we look at the modern struggle for marriage equality as a timeline, I think the time from now until marriage is legal in every state and the federal government recognizes marriages between couples of the same sex will be much less than the time from the filing of the Hawaii lawsuit to New York legalizing marriage equality.'
Washington State Senator Ed Murray (D-43), an openly Gay politician and longtime marriage equality advocate, said that there are many differences between New York's fight for equality and that of Washington. 'One of the major factors in the New York vote is within the Republican Party,' said Murray, who's introduced a marriage equality bill in Olympia every year since 1997. 'Our opponents in the Republican Party in our state are far to the right of those in New York.'
Murray told SGN that, although they are working hard in Olympia to secure votes for marriage equality, it is the grassroots effort (especially outside of Seattle) that has to get energized. 'This isn't something that the legislators can do, it's got to come from the community.'
'We are getting closer every year. But there is still a lot of work to be done,' said Murray. 'For those people who are just waiting around for marriage equality, I would encourage them to doorbell, talk to their friends and family about marriage equality, and donate to pro-LGBT candidates. We have to do all that we can to elect pro-marriage equality legislators.'
Representative Jamie Pedersen, an openly Gay legislator in Washington, said that he, Sen. Murray, and the other LGBT legislators have been working very carefully on an incremental strategy for 'the last four years that has put us in a place where we: one, have domestic partnerships with all of the rights and obligations of marriage at the state level; two, recognize out-of-state marriages and give them legal effect as domestic partnerships; and three, do not have a constitutional amendment banning marriage (like Oregon, California, Hawaii, and 26 other states).'
'I think that the results in Referendum 71 support our strategy so far - we are the only state in history whose voters have upheld rights for same-sex couples,' Rep. Pedersen told SGN. 'Until recently, the polling in Washington has not suggested that we could win a marriage campaign. We appear to be reaching the point where that may change.'
Pedersen says people should 'Get involved in and give money to Equal Rights Washington, Lambda Legal, Legal Voice, and the ACLU of Washington, which are the main organizations that have been working for marriage equality for many years. Make appointments to talk with their legislators, particularly if they live outside of Seattle. Give money to pro-marriage candidates, such as [gubernatorial candidate] Jay Inslee.'
Pedersen and Friedes agree that electing Inslee, a Democrat and strong supporter of marriage equality, over Republican Rob McKenna, a strong and vocal marriage equality opponent, is imperative.
The reason? Unlike New York, Washington has a referendum process. In order for LGBT Washingtonians to realize marriage equality, a bill would have to be passed, signed into law, and then defended at the ballot box. It's the three-horned beast.
'Different states will take different paths to marriage equality based on a variety of factors including their state constitutions, demographics, and political cultures,' Friedes told SGN. 'States like Washington need to be somewhat more cautious in their approach than states like New York because Washington is a referendum state, and what makes Washington state even more unusual is that we allow referendums on the ballot every year as opposed to only in general election years.'
'The really good news in Washington is that polls show that for the first time, the number of voters who support marriage equality is greater than the number who oppose marriage equality,' said Friedes. 'However, we need to remember that polls don't vote, people do. We have a great deal of work to do to solidify a marriage equality majority in the public. Not only do we need to continue to build support and win even larger numbers of voters over to supporting marriage equality, but we must make sure that voters, especially younger voters, are passionate about the issue so that they will mail in their ballots. Gay communities in Maine and California know all too well you can be winning in the polls and still lose an election.'
'It sounds clichéd, but the most important thing we can do is talk to our friends and families about why marriage matters and ask them to do the same thing,' he said. 'We must build a strong marriage equality majority in the electorate so we can secure marriage on the ballot. We must also be in communication with our state legislators and governor and gubernatorial candidates about why we need marriage equality. We must share our personal stories and meet with our legislators in person. And again, we must engage our social networks in lobbying our elected officials. We need to reach out to our faith communities, civic organizations, and employers and ask them to get them even more engaged.'
In addition, 'We will need to raise a great deal of money to hire organizers and create a media campaign,' said Friedes.
Representative Pedersen said he is happy that the community is energized by the outcome in New York. 'It was both a morale boost for us and a challenge to keep pushing,' he said. 'We will win this, but it will take a lot of work and money.'
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