by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
On February 13, Governor Chris Gregoire, surrounded by Gay lawmakers, supporters, and advocates of marriage equality, signed historic legislation to create same-sex marriage in Washington state.
'It is signed,' announced an emotional Gregoire as the hundreds of witnesses erupted into thunderous applause.
After years of fighting for marriage equality, advocates are pleased that since the beginning of 2012, there has been swift progress toward the signing of the bill. Gregoire announced her support for the same-sex marriage bill in January; weeks later the state Senate passed the bill 28-21 with four Republicans crossing party lines to vote with the Democratic majority; and then the state House of Representatives passed the bill last Wednesday by a 55-43 vote.
Gregoire signed the bill in the state reception room in the Capitol. 'I'm proud our same-sex couples will no longer be treated as 'separate but equal,' she said. She thanked Senator Ed Murray and Representative Jamie Pedersen for their years-long leadership on the issue.
In an instant, Washington became the seventh state to allow marriage equality, allowing for what Gov. Gregoire called 'what is right, just, and fair.'
The law takes effect June 7, unless opponents are successful in their attempt to put the measure up for public vote in November. Under the law, no church or religious denomination is required to marry same-sex couples.
A HISTORIC MOMENT
'This was a day so many have waited for, worked toward, toiled in times of great doubt for, and given their all to make a reality,' Zach Silk, Washington United for Marriage campaign manager, told Seattle Gay News. 'It was amazing. We were literally witnessing history.'
'History' was the word of the day. More than the obvious love and commitment, the truth is what transpired in Olympia on Monday, and it was a once-in-a-lifetime moment.
Nobody knows that more than Murray, an openly Gay lawmaker who has fought to advance LGBT rights in Washington for 17 years. Murray came to the Legislature after the death of his friend, Washington's first Gay lawmaker, Senator Cal Anderson. The late senator had worked for nearly 10 years on civil rights legislation.
'My friends, welcome to the other side of the rainbow,' an elated Murray told the crowd gathered at the Capitol to witness the signing of the bill. 'No matter what the future holds, nothing will take this moment away from us.'
When asked how he felt witnessing the signing of the bill, Murray replied, 'Happy, humble - I was moved by all the work everyone did.'
Pedersen, the bill's chief sponsor in the State House and also an openly Gay lawmaker, said, 'Years from now, our kids will look back and ask what all the fuss was about.'
'I'm elated,' beamed Pedersen, who says he plans to marry his longtime partner. 'We have a lot of work ahead of us in the next nine months, but this moment is very sweet.'
Josh Friedes, Equal Rights Washington marriage equality director, said that although he was not in the front row to witness the signing, what he did see were 'tears in the eyes of loving committed couples, hands held, and glances between partners and friends which told the story both of great joy and the acknowledgement of how much pain not being able to marry had caused.'
'I felt a great calm and a sense of personal relief,' he told SGN. 'I've been working on marriage equality nonstop since 1997, first in Massachusetts and now in Washington, and to see the strength of the Washington United for Marriage Campaign - dare I call it a movement - gives me great hope that we can preserve the marriage equality law in Washington state.'
Friedes says he also couldn't help but think 'we really are at different place in America in 2012.'
'The number and diversity of clergy in the bill signing room, joined by union leaders and members and business people, reminded me of the broad support we have today,' he said. 'It's a wonderful time to be LGBT in Washington state, and we need to celebrate that just as much as the actual marriage equality law itself.'
And celebrate we did. The community - which could barely contain its joy over the new law - and out supporters, took to Capitol Hill restaurants and bars to commemorate the historic victory.
In addition, over 300 singers from the Seattle Men's Chorus and Seattle Women's Chorus partnered with Washington United for Marriage, Equal Rights Washington, and SGN to celebrate at Plymouth Congregational Church (6th Ave. and University St.). The event, attended by over 1,000 people, was an opportunity for all members of the community to come together and celebrate the historic moment. Together, attendees sent a strong message to opponents that we stand in solidarity for marriage equality. Seattle City Council member Sally Clark and Plymouth Senior Minister Brigitta Remole joined Silk, Pedersen, and Murray to speak at the event.
VOTERS MAY FACE A REFERENDUM, INITIATIVE IN NOVEMBER
'Voters will have the opportunity to define marriage in our state,' declared Joseph Backholm, executive director of the Family Policy Institute of Washington - proponents of a referendum that would put the marriage equality law to public vote.
The newly formed group filed the referendum with the secretary of state within hours of the governor signing the bill.
'Marriage is the union of one man and one woman for good reason,' said Backholm. 'Marriage is society's way of bringing men and women together so that children can be raised by, and cared for by, their mother and father - the people responsible for bringing them into the world. It is the most important child-focused institution of society and we will fight to preserve it. Voters will have the opportunity to define marriage in our state.'
Opponents of the new law have until June 6 to collect 120,577 voter signatures to qualify the referendum to the November ballot. Once the signatures are filed, the legislation is stayed and does not go into effect.
The Preserve Marriage Washington coalition initially includes the Family Policy Institute of Washington, Stand for Marriage Washington, Concerned Women for America and the National Organization for Marriage. It is expected that hundreds of groups, churches, and individuals will be involved in the signature-gathering phase, and even more during the campaign.
'We call on the community of faith and all citizens to join in this referendum to give the voters of Washington the right to decide the definition of marriage in our state,' said Representative Matt Shea (R - Spokane Valley), a spokesman for Stand for Marriage Washington. 'Already we have had an outpouring of support from pastors, legislators, and individuals who are ready to go to work to preserve marriage in our state. Thirty-one other states have voted on marriage, and every one has voted to preserve marriage as the union of one man and one woman. Washington state will do the same.'
The marriage equality referendum has been named Referendum 74. It is important to note that, if Referendum 74 makes it on the November ballot, marriage equality supporters must vote in favor of the referendum - as referendums ask to 'keep' an existing law in place.
On top of the referendum, notorious right-wing lawyer Stephen Pidgeon has filed a November ballot initiative to repeal same-sex marriage in Washington state.
'We believe this issue is even more volatile than domestic partnerships,' Pidgeon said. 'The voters should get to vote on it. Let's see what they think.'
Pidgeon's initiative would alter the current state statute's definition of marriage from a civil contract 'between a male and a female' to 'between one man and one woman.'
The clarification is needed because Pidgeon says legalizing Gay marriage 'will lead to the liberalization of marriage laws to allow for polygamy and other forms of relationships.'
Pidgeon and supporters have until July 6 to amass the requisite 241,153 valid voter signatures to put a repeal before voters in November.
The ACLU and Legal Voice argued Wednesday in Thurston County Superior Court that with the recent passage of same-sex marriage legislation, Pidgeon's initiative language is now inaccurate. It fails, the organizations say, to acknowledge that marriage in Washington is no longer restricted to opposite-sex couples.
The two rights groups said the initiative needs to make it clear to voters in November that they are voting not to uphold the now-overturned marriage law that restricts marriage to only a man and a woman, but rather are voting to approve or reject the new state law that allows same-sex couples to marry.
CAMPAIGN FOR POPULAR VOTE
Murray is confident that marriage equality can still prevail, even if Referendum 74 makes it to the November ballot.
'Yes, we can and we will win,' he said. 'But winning will depend on the courage and commitment of the community. We reached this point because so many people have been willing to share deeply personal stories about their own experiences, about their hopes for their Gay or Lesbian children, or even about close friends or co-workers. Ultimately, it's those stories that will decide how the public votes.'
Silk agreed, telling SGN, 'We can win!'
'It will take us all working together, joining the cause and supporting one another as we fight to protect this hard-earned victory,' he said. 'We've been having long conversations with the voters of Washington, from successfully passing bills in Olympia to our successful defense of Referendum 71.'
Silk maintains that if Washington United for Marriage speaks with voters 'early and often and tells them stories about love, commitment, family, and equality,' we will win.
'We can only do that if people join our cause,' he reminded us, pointing out that although the campaign is already underway, SGN readers might want to think about volunteering with the organization, making a campaign donation, and staying informed about the campaign by visiting www.washingtonunitedformarriage.org.
'I believe we could secure marriage equality in 2012 but only if we approach each day as if the referendum were tomorrow,' Friedes told SGN.
Friedes led the successful Washington Families Standing Together campaign that approved Referendum 71 in 2009. Since then, Friedes went on to become executive director at Equal Rights Washington, marriage equality director at the organization, and a proud member of Washington United for Marriage.
'The referendum is winnable, but complacency and overconfidence coupled with the incredible flow of anti-Gay money that will come from out of state are our greatest threats,' warned Friedes.
'Our stories continue to be our power and we must not simply say 'We will need to APPROVE Referendum 74' if it qualifies for the ballot, which is sadly a near certainty,' he continued, 'We must tell our stories and then say, 'This is why I ask you to join me in voting to approve 74' if it qualifies for the ballot.'
Friedes says it is our stories that not only move undecided voters, 'it is our stories that bind our soft base to being marriage equality supporters.'
'We must each take personal responsibility for talking to our social networks and doing our part to support the Washington United campaign and that must include each of us seeing ourselves as donors,' he said.
'We won in Olympia,' echoed Silk. 'Now we need to protect that victory at the ballot box.'
'The only way we can ensure the religious right does not roll back marriage equality is for people to join us today,' he concludes. 'Got to www.washingtonunited.org, sign up, volunteer, and give.'
TODAY, WASHINGTON STATE IS A BETTER PLACE
In her seven-year tenure as governor of Washington state, Gregoire told the media that the day she signed the marriage equality bill was 'one of the best.'
On Monday, Gregoire said, quite simply, 'Love is love.'
'I'm proud that Washington became the seventh state in the nation to provide civil marriage for same-sex couples, and that it stood up for what is right and just,' wrote Gregoire in a Huffington Post editorial, published February 14.
'I'm proud that our same-sex couples will no longer be treated as separate but equal; they will be equal. I'm proud that the children of same-sex couples will no longer have to wonder why their parents' love is treated differently than that of other loving families,' she continued. 'I'm proud of the parents who have fought fiercely for the rights of their much-loved Gay and Lesbian children. And I'm proud that those who are growing up and realizing they are Gay or Lesbian can see that they, too, can look forward to the day when they make that important vow in front of their friends and family to the person they love.'
As a parent, Gregoire says there is no greater joy than 'seeing your grown child walk down the aisle and make a lifetime commitment to the person they love.'
In Washington state, she said, the words 'I do' will now carry the same meaning for all families.
'Like laws in other states, our legislation provides broad protections for religious organizations, religiously affiliated schools, and social service organizations,' wrote Gregoire. 'While no religion will be required to perform a marriage against its beliefs, the state will no longer discriminate in the issuing of marriage licenses.'
This legislation makes us stronger, she told SGN readers. 'The stories of everyday citizens who give back to their communities, support one another in their relationships, care for aging parents, raise healthy families, and save for their children's futures are legion.'
Gregoire spoke of a young man who received his associate's degree in computer science as a senior in high school and recently emailed her, saying that his biggest obstacle in life is not his passion or intellect, but his sexuality.
'As he so thoughtfully wrote, 'One day, as this nation continues to change, people like me will not have to be extraordinary to appear ordinary,' she recalled. 'That's as it should be.'
Marriage is important to everyone, she declared.
'In Washington state, it is important enough that this bill passed with a resounding 'yes' that was achieved only with bipartisan support. Republicans and Democrats both stood up for what is right. Leaders from both parties, Gay and straight, made impassioned, eloquent speeches conveying that marriage equality is not a partisan value or a religious value, but a human value,' Gregoire continued. 'Major corporations such as Microsoft, Starbucks, and Nike endorsed the bill and said, rightly, that diverse workforces are key to economic success.'
'But this bill is much more than a piece of legislation,' she concluded. 'It is about telling couples, some who have been together for 20 or 30 years or more, that a lifetime commitment matters. That their love matters. That their families matter.'
'It's that simple,' wrote Gregoire. 'And today, Washington state is a better place.'
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