Washington State Senate: Historic Vote on Marriage Equality Bill
Marriage Equality: A Report from Washington State
by Alan Michael Williams
I live in Seattle and am happy that the Senate in this state has passed a marriage equality bill. At this point, the House is sure to pass it, and the governor sure to sign it into law.
I've chosen the image above to comment upon because of the scowling. I find the image an interesting juxtaposition given the happy passage of the bill. The picture was taken during the debate prior to the vote, and I would guess something is being said that the people in the picture do not agree with.
From left to right, you have Senator Ed Murray (who's been instrumental in bringing marriage equality to Washington state step-by-step over many years), Murray's longtime partner Michael Shiosaki (I think he and Murray have been together 20+ years), Representative Jamie Pedersen (who also happens to be gay) and finally, Christine Gregoire, Washington's governor (who has thrown her support behind the bill during her last year in office).
After the vote was counted, 28 in favor, 21 against, Murray stated that same-sex marriage is "as contentious as any issue that this body has considered in its history." And that lawmakers who vote against it "are not, nor should they be accused of bigotry."
Further, "those...who support this legislation are not, and we should not be accused of, undermining family life or religious freedom. Marriage is how society says you are a family."
I found this to be a telling choice of words. Those on both sides of the issue have commented upon how the tone of the debate was respectful and calm, even if words sometimes caused scowls. People have been grappling with each other's positions for many years now, and dialogue has lead to more understanding.
There's a good chance that opponents of the bill will attempt to overturn it with a referendum. In 2009, Washington state made history for being the first state in the nation to vote by referendum to extend same-sex relationship rights -- to make them legally separate, but equal to marriage. Basically, Referendum 71 was a question of whether to approve or reject what's been nicknamed an "everything but marriage" bill, and the voters approved it at 53%. Now, 3 years later, if this current bill goes to the ballot, the question before Washingtonians would be whether to drop the "separate" aspect in favor of marriage equality.
Opponents are correct when they say that never before have a state's citizens voted to approve of marriage equality. To be honest, I'm a little fearful about such a referendum. Yet if in the unfortunate event such a referendum did pass this November that rejected marriage equality (such as what happened in Maine in 2009: 53% to 47%), I would see it as a mere temporary setback. For example, after Maine voters rejected their legislature's bill in 2009, people thought the issue would be dead in the water for a long time. But actually Maine intends to vote on same-sex marriage again this year by ballot, a referendum brought forward by supporters of marriage equality. The best-case scenario is that this year both the northwestern and northeastern corners of the continental U.S. will prove that marriage equality can be supported by a majority of voters in a state. As scary as such votes might seem, 2012 may prove to be a significant turning point.