Battle lines being drawn:

Washington state likely to legalize same-sex marriage; opponents likely to fight it

Battle lines being drawn:

Battle lines being drawn:

Mandy McKay loves to talk about her wedding. She was married last August, in an outdoor ceremony at the Wine & Roses Country Estate in Auburn, Wash. 

All the staples of a typical wedding occurred: Mandy floated down the aisle on the arm of her father, in a long, white gown with a sweetheart neckline, carrying a bouquet of fuchsia roses.

Standing at the altar in stark, white slacks and a crisp, white shirt and vest, waited the love of her life: Danie.

In front of 140 of their closest friends and family, the couple exchanged vows of commitment and love. 

But in the eyes of the state and federal government, it’s as if the whole thing never happened. You see, Mandy and Danie McKay are both women, and same-sex marriages are not legally recognized by these entities.

For the McKays and many other gay couples, a recent Senate bill proposing the legalization of same-sex marriage in Washington state has been a cause for celebration.

“We’re ecstatic,” Danie McKay said. “It makes it feel like we can do everything that our best friends can do. We love that, and we love the fact that people are coming around to realize that everyone is a person, and just because you happen to love somebody of the same sex doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be allowed to marry.”

Opponents of the bill, including the Catholic Archdiocese and other religious organizations, have begun to gather support to quash the new law in a voter-referendum next election, should it make it on the ballot. For both sides of the issue, a fight is looming on the November horizon.


Realizing equality

Washington is one of 14 states, along with the District of Columbia, that recognizes domestic partnerships. Though they can’t offer all the benefits of marriage, domestic partnerships do give same-sex couples some rights, including hospital visitation and the ability to inherit without a will. 

Though challenged in 2009, Washington domestic partnership laws have remained firmly in place since their induction in 2007.

Charlene Strong, co-editor of Seattle Lesbian, said that though these benefits are positive, they in no way constitute equality. 

“The language of marriage is very understandable,” Strong said. “You don’t need to carry a card around — which currently everyone in a domestic partnership is asked to carry — to prove that you’re in a relationship.”

This year, the state Senate secured enough votes to pass a bill through the Legislature, legalizing same-sex marriage, when state Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen (D-Camano Island) became the 25th senator to endorse the bill. The state House and Gov. Christine Gregoire had already offered their support.

According to state law, opponents will have 90 days from the end of the legislative session (March 8) to collect 120,577 signatures requesting a referendum onto the November ballot. Then the issue would go to the voters. 

If a referendum is forced, the law will be put on hold until after the November elections. If upheld, same-sex marriage would be legal in Washington state on Dec. 6.

A recent University of Washington poll found that 55 percent of voters in the state would uphold the same-sex marriage law if it appeared on the ballot. 

Although not a done deal, the likelihood of legalizing same-sex marriage in Washington seems to be growing.

“At some point in the next few weeks, based on scheduling issues not related to the bill, we’ll bring it to the Senate floor for debate,” said bill co-sponsor Sen. Ed Murray, “Currently, as of today, we have the votes, so I’m anxious to do it sooner than later. It will be a fight, but I think we can win it.”

A fight is just what opponents of same-sex marriage are gearing up for. In an interview with The Seattle Times, Joseph Backholm, executive director of the Family Policy Institute of Washington, promised that the legalization of same-sex marriage would trigger a referendum challenge: “It’s not done; in fact, it’s just started,” he said.


A religious issue

It’s no secret that many Christians view gay marriage as a sin. They often cite the Biblical passage Leviticus 18:22, which refers to man lying with man as an “abomination.”

Though this verse does not mention a stance on gay marriage itself, Biblical followers tend to use this passage as their reason for opposing same-sex marriages.

Already, several local religious leaders have weighed in on why they feel gay marriage should continue to stay banned. In late January, Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle teamed up with three other bishops throughout the state and called citizens to contact their representatives in defense of marriage remaining defined as a “union between a man and a woman.”

Sartain also said that a main reason the Catholic Church is against same-sex marriage is that it cannot produce children.

“The natural structure of human sexuality orders the transmission of human life through man and woman,” he said. “Because only the union of a man and woman can generate new life, no other human relationship is its equivalent.”

While Sartain’s sentiments echo those of the Catholic Church, his stance is not one that is upheld by all Catholics. Murray — who has been with his partner, Michael Shiosaki, for 21 years — is Catholic, along with Gregoire and many others who support the bill.

Murray and Gregoire have been very vocal about their struggle to balance politics and their personal faiths.

“I am a Catholic,” Murray said. “But I think I’m in a very similar situation to Catholics who’ve chosen to use birth control. Something like 90 percent of Catholics support the use of birth control, which the Church opposes. I think I’m in a situation similar to couples who are divorced and can’t get remarried in the Catholic Church. It’s painful, but it doesn’t change my basic beliefs in the Church or my personal faith.”

Gregoire, who has advocated publicly for gay rights, recently admitted at a press conference that her reluctance to fully support same-sex marriage in the past, had to do with her faith: “It has been a battle for me with my religion.”

Gregoire added that she came to her decision by focusing on her political obligations to the citizens of Washington state. “I’ve always been uncomfortable with the position I took publicly. Then I came to realize, the religions can decide what they want to do, but it’s not OK for the state to discriminate.”

The current bill has provisions to protect churches from discrimination lawsuits should they refuse to preform same-sex marriages. But for many, these protections are not enough. At a recent press conference held by The Stand for Marriage Coalition, Pastor Shahram Hadian spoke on behalf of the membership about the continued mission of defining marriage as between one man and one woman: “We want to proclaim as a coalition that, even though there may be civil authority, we do not believe that the government has moral and spiritual authority to change or redefine marriage between one man and one woman as God has created it.”

Hadian and other members of the coalition worry that while the current bill protects churches from being forced to perform same-sex marriages, one day that will change. He likened the situation to the current federal legislation requiring all hospitals receiving federal funding (including Catholic hospitals) to perform life-saving measures such as abortions, when needed.


A civil issue

For many, the issue of gay marriage is about civil rights. Mayor Mike McGinn said in a press release that he supports any legislation that aims to provide equal rights.

“It’s exciting that the state Legislature could act this year to make marriage equality a reality,” he said.

Seattle Lesbian’s Strong agreed: “This is a civil-rights issue.” 

She added that people who are against legalizing same-sex marriage are those who want to discriminate and “deny others the ability to have the same civil liberties that they enjoy without ever thinking about them.”

Metropolitan King County Councilmember Larry Gossett, an African-American leader who has championed for civil liberties for many years, said that King County’s recent pledge to support same-sex marriage is the latest step in the ongoing fight for civil liberties.

“Many have marched, fought and died for equality,” he said. “Ensuring that equality is ‘sex-neutral’ and that loving and committed adult couples are free to marry is something I have always supported.”

But not everyone feels this way. Pastor Ken Hutcherson, the African-American pastor of Antioch Bible Church in Kirkland, has been an outspoken opponent of same-sex marriage and said at the Stand for Marriage Coalition press conference that marriage is not protected by the Constitution as a civil liberty.

“Leave civil rights alone. It has no significance when it comes to homosexuals wanting the right to marry. [It’s] for all the freedom fighters, for African-American society, for the people that are protected by the Constitution,” he said. “I was born black, I have lived black, I will die black — that will never change. But if you have one homosexual who changes [preferences], you cannot say that they were born that way and cannot change.”


A continuing battle

According to a 2006 study conducted by Gary Gates at the Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy at the University of California, Seattle currently boasts the second-largest population percentage of gay, lesbian and bisexual (GLB) residents in the country. 

With 12.9 percent of Seattle identifying themselves as members of the GLB community, the likelihood that a voter referendum could keep a same-sex marriage law in place is higher than it has ever been before. 

Although gay marriage is currently legal in six states, it has never before passed at the ballots. Strong said that she is well aware of this reality, but that it will happen somewhere, eventually.

“This is a start. What this Washington state marriage legislation does is continue to put pressure on those states that believe they don’t have to do anything to allow their citizens equality. It’s another state that says, ‘We’re standing with our citizens and the people of Washington state and saying, Yes, we do believe in equality.’ So the more states that make these attempts to go after marriage, even if they fail, it’s a conversation that is opened up.”

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