by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
In a spirited and impassioned speech, Governor Chris Gregoire publicly supported legalizing same-sex marriage in Washington state. Although she previously supported efforts to expand the state's current law on domestic partner rights for LGBT couples, Wednesday, January 4, was the first time she came out in support of full marriage equality, going so far as to say that she would be the one to introduce the bill in the next legislative session - scheduled to start Monday.
'It's time. It's the right thing to do,' Gregoire told a room crowded with reporters, LGBT advocates, and supporters of same-sex marriage who came from as far away as Spokane and Vancouver, Washington to witness the speech.
'Some say domestic partnerships are the same as marriage,' she said. 'That's a version of the discriminatory 'separate but equal' argument of the past.'
'Our Gay and Lesbian families face the same hurdles as heterosexual families: making ends meet, choosing what school to send their kids to, finding someone to grow old with, standing in front of friends and family, and making a lifetime commitment,' Gregoire said.
'For all couples, a state marriage license is very important. It gives them the right to enter into a marriage contract in which their legal interests, and those of their children, if any, are protected by well-established civil law.'
Present during the governor's speech were couples who have registered as domestic partners in Washington state. For many of the nearly 19,000 people registered as domestic partners in Washington, it is not enough. They want to get married, and they want to get married now.
'My partner and I have been together 22 years, and our family is very similar to those of my friends and colleagues,' said Jennifer Cast, a longtime Washington resident who wishes to marry. 'We work hard to create a productive and happy life for ourselves and our family. We cherish the good times and console each other during hard times. We share each other's challenges, sorrows, triumphs, and joys, just like any other couple. We want our love and commitment to be valued and recognized equally in our state.'
'When I tell people that Rudy and I have a domestic partnership, they really don't understand what that means,' said John McCluskey, a longtime resident of Tacoma. 'We've been together for 53 years and I couldn't imagine spending my life with anyone else. The thought that people don't understand that our family faces the same struggles and the same triumphs as any other family in our state is heartbreaking.'
For many LGBT advocates in Washington state, the governor's endorsement of Gay marriage is seen as a key piece in securing marriage equality in the Evergreen State in 2012. Gregoire's announcement was met with loud applause from Gay rights groups present in her conference room.
Washington United for Marriage, the broad statewide coalition of organizations, congregations, unions, and business associations working to obtain civil marriage for Lesbian and Gay couples in Washington state in 2012, applauded Gregoire for her landmark comments and endorsement of marriage equality.
'Governor Gregoire made crystal clear why marriage equality matters and why the legislature should pass it this year,' said Zach Silk, campaign manager for Washington United for Marriage. 'She has shown tremendous leadership on this issue which affects so many of our friends, family, and neighbors.'
Silk noted that during her remarks, Gregoire clearly made the case of why marriage matters and the impact of having separate classifications of relationship recognition for Lesbian and Gay couples.
'Thousands of families in Washington state will be impacted by the legislation,' he said. 'Currently, these couples may register for a domestic partnership which confers most of the rights and responsibilities of marriage, but does not recognize the love, commitment, and devotion to family that marriage conveys.'
Silk is right; Gregoire's speech was powerful. Speaking as not only an elected leader, but as a mother, wife, and member of the Catholic faith, her words were backed by what she called a journey in which she battled her own uncertainty on the issue.
Gregoire says she was uncomfortable with the position she previously took, but that she 'came to realize the religions can decide what they want to do, but it's not OK for the state to discriminate.'
Just as LGBT people have been asked to tell their story, Gay marriage advocates have asked straight allies to do the same. Gregoire did just that, explaining that she had to work through her religious beliefs and listen to friends and family who had asked her to change her views.
Following Gregoire's lead, State Senator Kevin Ranker, a Democrat representing Orcas Island, applauded the governor and relayed his own personal story.
'Growing up, I was taught that a family was not determined by the genders of the persons involved, but by the love and commitment that they shared. I was taught that every person is to be treated with respect and dignity,' Ranker said. 'These are the values that I have carried with me throughout my life. These are the values that my wife and I have passed on to our daughter.'
'The marriage equality legislation discussed today by the governor is a long overdue recognition of these core human rights. This legislation does not create new rights for Gay and Lesbian couples,' he pointed out. 'Nor does it force our religious institutions to abide by new rules. This legislation simply recognizes that all families deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.'
'As the son of a Gay man, I grew up with a strong value system nurtured by a father who provided me with a foundation to succeed and gave me unconditional love and support,' said Ranker. 'This legislation will provide thousands of families like mine with the respect and dignity they deserve.'
'For decades, our country has struggled with discrimination in many forms. While it takes time, education, and sacrifice to conquer injustices, those on the side of promoting tolerance and equality have always prevailed,' he concluded. 'This year, we have a chance to do something wonderful for thousands of Washingtonians. This year, we have the opportunity to stand up for equality for all.'
The Human Rights Campaign said that, like Gregoire's views on Gay marriage, times have changed.
'From coast to coast, more and more Americans are coming to appreciate the values they share with committed Gay and Lesbian couples: the desire to love, honor, and protect the person they love,' said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, in regard to Gregoire and New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo's strong support of marriage equality. 'By voicing their strong support for marriage equality, Governors Gregoire and Cuomo propel this issue forward. They confirm what most Americans already believe: committed Gay and Lesbian couples deserve the ability to marry and establish families protected by law.'
New York state passed same-sex marriage legislation last year, and on January 4, Governor Cuomo listed it as one of his top accomplishments for 2011 in his annual 'State of the State' address. Governor Cuomo said that prior to the passage of this legislation, Gay and Lesbian New Yorkers were treated as 'second-class citizens by the government.'
'It's notable that both governors are Catholics - a group that supports legal recognition of Gay and Lesbian couples by wide margins,' said Solmonese. 'According to the Public Religion Research Institute, Catholics are more supportive of legal recognition of Gay couples than members of any other Christian tradition. On the issue of allowing Lesbian and Gay couples to get a civil marriage license at City Hall, 71% of American Catholics say they are in favor.'
The church's local authorities, however, are not as supportive.
Greg Magnoni, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Seattle, said that the church would be 'looking for the Legislature to uphold the current legal definition of marriage as between a man and a woman.'
'The position of the Catholic Church is clear,' he said.
On Monday, lawmakers return to the Capitol for the start of a 60-day legislative session.
Democratic Senator Ed Murray and Representative Jamie Pedersen, both popular Gay lawmakers who have fought for Gay rights and domestic partnership laws in the state, said a bill would be introduced next week that would not contain a referendum clause, which would require the public to ultimately approve the measure if passed by the Legislature.
'We need to take this vote, we need to take it this year, and we need to take it in the Legislature,' Murray said. 'It's time for the Legislature to catch up with the public.'
While Murray has continually acknowledged that it would be a tough battle in the Senate, he said, 'We're a few votes short, but I think we can get there.'
If the bill were passed, the opposition would then have time to gather signatures for a referendum seeking to overturn the measure. Pedersen warned that 'we need to be prepared for the idea that we might have to fight it at the ballot.'
Opponents of Gay marriage are already gearing up for a fight.
'Marriage is about procreation,' State Senator Dan Swecker, a Republican representing Centralia, said. 'Marriage is about producing and providing for the next generation. That's only done between one man and one woman.'
And it isn't just Republicans who are against marriage equality. Senator Tim Sheldon, a Democrat representing Potlatch (who supported a ban on same-sex marriage more than a decade ago), said he still is opposed.
'I'm not on board with it, and I don't think my constituents are,' Sheldon told the Seattle Times.
If a same-sex marriage bill is approved by the Legislature, Washington would become the seventh state in the country to legalize Gay marriage.
At this time, six states plus the District of Columbia recognize marriage for same-sex couples: Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, and Vermont. Nine states - California, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Washington - provide same-sex couples with access to state-level benefits and responsibilities of marriage, through either civil unions or domestic partnerships. Same-sex couples do not receive federal rights or benefits in any state.
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