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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, April 6, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 14
The story of Paul Thomasson
Section One
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The story of Paul Thomasson

Gay Seattleite's letter-writing campaign reaches out to marriage opponents

by Shaun Knittel - SGN Associate Editor

A Gay Seattle man has personally sent letters or emails to people who signed the petition to put Referendum 71 on the 2009 general election ballot. Referendum 71 passed, leaving the Domestic Partnership law unscathed and eventually leading to a Marriage Equality bill being signed into law earlier this year.

In a document entitled 'My Marriage Equality Story' at http://thomasson.name, Paul Thomasson explains why he chose to contact domestic partner/marriage equality opponents.

'A marriage equality bill was recently passed by the Washington State Legislature and signed by Governor Chris Gregoire,' said Thomasson. 'Marriage equality opponents have signaled their intention to gather the signatures necessary to put the issue to the people of Washington on the November ballot as Referendum 74.'

To be certified, opponents of marriage equality must turn in the signatures of at least 120,577 registered voters. The deadline for filing petition signatures for Referendum 74 is 5 p.m. on June 6. If enough signatures are gathered, marriage equality advocates will have to defend the same-sex marriage law at the ballot box. No state has ever successfully advanced - or kept - marriage equality when put to popular vote.

'A 'decline to sign' campaign is underway and marriage equality advocates have told the Gay community that we need to 'tell our stories' if we are to prevail in the coming fight,' said Thomasson. 'Because I am Gay, because I've been partnered for almost 17 years, and because I would really like to be equal in the eyes of the law someday soon, I decided to try to tell my story to the people who need to hear it most.'

Thomasson reasoned that the people most likely to sign the petition for R74 are the very same ones who signed the one for R71.

Using the website www.whosigned.org, a list of the names and addresses collected by Protect Marriage Washington during their attempt to qualify R71 for the 2009 ballot, Thomasson transcribed email addresses for and sent a personal appeal to 2,074 of the R71 signers.

MESSAGE TO PETITION SIGNERS
Thomasson's message to the signers of the R71 petition begins with the introduction, 'You don't know me, but you may soon be in a position to have an effect on my life.' He then goes on to explain how he got their name and address and why he is contacting them.

The message is personal, but well thought out. At no point does Thomasson attack anyone for their views, and in telling his story he never once uses aggressive language - which could possibly explain why he got so many respectful responses from people who received his note.

'As you have probably guessed, I am Gay. After many years trying to be otherwise, I came to the realization that my orientation is as innate as the color of my eyes and that it was futile and even harmful to continue trying to be something that I am not (as I'm sure several girlfriends who wasted their time on me would attest),' he said. 'We can choose what we do, but we cannot willfully choose who we are attracted to or who we fall in love with. We simply do, and are we not as worthy as anyone else to have a chance to know real true romantic love (as opposed to the kind of platonic love that we may have had for members of the opposite gender)?

'Thankfully,' he continued, 'I found a partner and we have been together for almost 17 years.

'We met in Washington, D.C., at a country-western dance class on Friday, January 13, 1995 (we have no other date to remember or celebrate),' Thomasson explained in the message. 'Our meeting and ensuing romance was a revelation to me. For the first time in my life, I understood what the term 'falling in love' meant (a concept which had eluded me well into my 30s).

'After a period of dating, even though we didn't have a license or ceremony or a party or any of the other things that society uses to formalize and recognize a life-long commitment, we made a pledge to each other and we have stayed faithful. We both served in the military (I, for almost 10 years). We pay our taxes and we try to be good citizens and good sons to our parents.

'We don't understand how extending the rights and responsibilities of civil marriage to us would harm (or even affect) anyone else's marriage. And in your heart, I'm sure you know that it would not.

'We're not asking for special rights or for you to agree with the morality of the way we live our lives. All we want is for our government to provide us access to the single commonly understood institution that will make it easier for us and people like us to form and perpetuate the kind of stable life-long partnerships which surely benefit society.'

Ending the letter, Thomasson wrote, 'I can't know what motivated you to sign the petition for R71, but I sincerely hope and pray that you will not sign the petition for R74.'

OVER 70 RESPONSES RECEIVED
According to Thomasson, about one-third of the emails were returned as undeliverable. 'That leaves 1,387 that have presumably gotten through - at least to the signers' mailboxes,' he said.

Thomasson has received over 70 responses, some of which he calls 'surprising.'

Some of those surprising results are from petition signers like Lorie, who wrote Thomasson back, saying, 'I signed the petition to get it on the ballot so we could pass it! I don't know what R74 is yet but I won't sign it if it is not going to help people be together. I think if you love someone and you want to be with that person for life you should have the power to do that. Love is love that's all there is to it. I support Gay people and I think it is sad that there has to even be a fight or struggle for this.'

Another R71 petition signer, Sharon, admits that she goofed. 'I will get straight to the point. When I signed Referendum 71 I believed I was signing in favor of Gay marriage, not against. That being said, I did not take the time to read before I signed and for that I am sorry. I now take the time to read everything before I sign.'

Others, however, seemed unmoved by the letter.

Celia, who signed off in her response 'in Jesus' Name and His Great Love,' told Thomasson, 'What I believe about marriage is that it is a relationship between a man and a woman. Because I believe it so, I don't care if the present governor signs into law making it legal for men to marry men and women to marry women. It is still wrong before God and it is He that I will have to answer when I've left this earth. And Paul, I believe you also will have to give an account to God. For me to condone your choice of lifestyle says that I prefer to have people like me than be right with God. I cannot let this happen, not after all He's done for me. You're asking me to not sign the petition. But if it is presented to me and I choose not to do it because of what you have said, says that I agree with you and I don't.'

Another response reads, 'To put it bluntly, you are wasting your time even writing me. I do not now, nor will I ever support the idea of Gay marriages or domestic partnership. That is one of the most inane and idiotic ideas to ever be proposed.'

'Well, unfortunately, I am a follower of Christ Jesus and whole heartily [sic] believe what the Holy Bible says about marriage and that it is between one man and one woman,' wrote another R71 petition signer. 'I am also sorry that you have sent me an email understanding that I am against same-sex marriage because my mind will never be changed on the matter.'

A SINGLE PHONE CALL
Thomasson says the most surprising thing is that even though he included his land-line telephone number in each email, he only received a single call.

'A gentleman from the Kitsap Peninsula called to warn me that he had received an email that included my telephone number and he thought it must be a scam,' he continued. 'After I explained that I had in fact sent the email and that I was glad he called, he said that he needed to tell me that his religious beliefs 'prevented' him from supporting Gay marriage. We proceeded to have a wide-ranging conversation for about 30 minutes.

'The moment in the conversation where he began to 'get it' was when I asked him to try to step into our shoes & to imagine himself in a Gay world where he, as a straight man, was a tiny minority,' said Thomasson. 'I asked him whether he believed the teachings of his church or societal pressure would have really been enough to make him desire and/or be willing to partner with men. His said very dismissively that no it would not... and then had an 'a-ha moment' as he realized that he had proven my point.'

'By the end of the call, I believed that I may have a convert,' he announced. 'His final words were, 'I truly hope that you guys get the equality you deserve in your lifetime.'

'I WAS PREPARED FOR WORSE'
Thomasson was surprised that the majority of the responses were fairly respectful. 'I was prepared for worse,' he said.

Some of the respondents were upset because they felt Thomasson had violated their privacy and that sending the letters was (or should be) illegal.

Thomasson says that, according to the Supreme Court, 'there is no privacy right for people who chose to be involved in the legislative process by signing petitions for initiatives or referenda.'

'In America, we vote in private and legislate in public. Once people choose to enter the legislative fray, others with opposing views may seek them out to try to change their minds,' he said. 'At least my message was something that people could read and/or delete in the privacy of their own homophobia.'

In addition, Thomasson says the Protect Marriage Washington people were 'remarkably negligent in failing to fully redact the email addresses before turning them in. It is they who should be held accountable for not protecting the email addresses.'

Based on the responses, Thomasson says it's clear that virtually all of the people who oppose allowing Gays and Lesbians to marry 'do so solely because of their religious beliefs and not for any other (more rational) reasons.'

Also, he said that many of the signers still seem to believe that Gays and Lesbians are just choosing to be evil and that they should choose otherwise, or perhaps be cured.

'These people seem totally fine with our laws being based directly on some of the biblical scripture that they so easily pick and choose amongst,' he said. 'We will probably never sway them. I'd be willing to bet, however, that they have no problem with eating shrimp and pork and wearing polyester blends.'

'Some people seem to genuinely want us to have all of the 'rights' of marriage without the word,' said Thomasson. 'They are apparently oblivious to the impracticality of separate actually ever being equal.'

At the end of the process, Thomasson believes, 'Some minds have already changed, and some are regretful of their previous positions or their failure to understand what they were signing.'

'The organizers of the new petition drives will surely again use trickery and peer pressure to get people to sign,' he concluded. 'I would ask people to follow Nancy Reagan's inspired advice and 'just say no!'

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