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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, July 15, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 28
The time to legalize same-sex marriage in Washington is now
Section One
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The time to legalize same-sex marriage in Washington is now

by Joel Connelly - Courtesy of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Judges across New York will spend this coming summer Sunday at work tying the knot, for July 24 is the first day that same-sex couples in the Empire State can legally wed. So great is demand in New York City that a lottery will be used to distribute 764 marriage licenses.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg will be at Gracie Mansion, presiding over the nuptials uniting his chief policy adviser John Feinblatt and the city's consumer affairs chief Jonathan Mintz.

Washington, where voters in 2009 endorsed 'everything but marriage' rights, needs to follow. We can become the first West Coast state where the peoples' elected representatives enact full marriage rights.

Social attitudes can change rapidly: In the early 1960s, Seattle repeatedly rejected open housing ordinances, only to see the vestiges of legalized racial discrimination - and their political defenders - vanish by the end of the decade.

Lately, progress of the GLBT rights movement 'has mirrored the black freedom movement, but in hyperspeed,' editor David Remnick writes in this week's New Yorker. Or as Peter Brown of Quinnipiac University Polling Institute reported after his latest survey, 'American attitudes toward homosexuality in general and same-sex marriage in particular are changing.'

At the moment, except for Iowa, states where same-sex marriage is now legal are located entirely in the Northeast Corridor. (Marriage equality has also come to the District of Columbia.)

The West should catch up. Proposition 8, the 2008 measure reimposing California's ban on same-sex marriage, may very well fall in the federal courts. The two chief legal antagonists in Bush v. Gore - liberal lawyer David Boies and conservative ex-Soliciter General Ted Olson - are leading the legal charge.

In Washington, we can do it by legislative action and - if the Christian right gathers ballot signatures - mail-in ballots endorsing marriage equality. In 1978, Seattle was the first city whose voters upheld anti-discrimination laws protecting Gays and Lesbians. With Referendum 71, in 2009, Washington was first to uphold a legislature's decision to extend rights to same-sex couples.

'The state has no place in the bedrooms of the nation,' Canada's Justice Minister (and future prime minister) Pierre Trudeau declared 44 years ago, in wiping sodomy statutes off the books. The Great White North now has same-sex marriage. We've seen no crumbling of societal structure up there, only a spat in the Anglican Church.

Privacy has always been a benchmark of the West. The tradition in these parts is giving latitude for people to live, work, worship, and recreate as they wish - leaving behind social conformity and social strictures. It has made for a creative rather than constricted society where the busybody is marginalized.

Gays and lesbians serve in the Washington State Legislature and on the Seattle City Council. The chief federal prosecutor for these parts is a Gay woman. Our state's leading corporations sponsor the lunches and dinners of GLBT business groups and the Human Rights Campaign.

We saw a pair of conflicting signals last week. State Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown suggested in a seattlepi.com interview that Washington 'could be ready for full marriage equality.' But State Sen. Ed Murray, strategist for successful incrementalism, told Publicola that the votes aren't there right now.

But votes weren't there in the New York State Senate, which slapped down marriage equality two years ago. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, liberal clergy and libertarian-minded Republican business leaders went out and found them. A quartet of Republican senators made the difference.

The message should be heard by Gov. Chris Gregoire. She came into office with such energy six years ago, taking risks on a gas-tax hike and taking initiatives on the Puget Sound cleanup. After a dismal 2011 legislative session, slashing social programs and education, marriage equality offers a chance for Gregoire to go out on a display of bold leadership.

The public is already moving. A recent Gallup poll showed a narrow majority favoring same-sex marriage - a figure that goes up to 70% among those under 35. Quinnipiac found white Catholics in support by a 56%-38% margin.

Just 15 years ago, President Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which prohibits federal government recognition of same-sex marriages. On Tuesday, President Obama formally announced support for its repeal.

Across the Midwest and into the South, state legislatures have been taking away peoples' rights, making it harder for students to vote and slapping restrictions on abortion (while defunding family planning programs).

Washington can go the opposite direction, taking another step into the sunlight of human rights. The time for full marriage equality is NOW.

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