July 2012 Bar Bulletin
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July 2012 Bar Bulletin

Winning the Freedom to Marry in Washington: What Is Needed Now?

By Evan Wolfson


With the Washington Legislature's historic passage earlier this year of a freedom-to-marry bill, signed into law by Gov. Chris Gregoire, loving and committed same-sex couples are ready to cross the threshold. But before these couples can marry, they must overcome one more obstacle: persuading their fellow citizens to vote to approve Referendum 74 on the November ballot, following anti-gay opponents' submission of signatures forcing an up-or-down vote on whether to end exclusion from marriage.

The freedom to marry has strong momentum nationwide and in Washington - but, of course, the result on Referendum 74 will depend on how well and how early these families and those who favor fairness make the case to the voters, just as they did to lawmakers in Olympia. In the coming months, Washingtonians must get to hear from loving and committed same-sex couples, their families and those who believe in equality under the law and the Golden Rule of treating others as you'd want to be treated.

As Washingtonians decide what vote they will cast, they must be invited to talk about why marriage matters to gay and non-gay people alike: being there for the person you love through both the joyous and not-so-joyous moments of life; taking a vow of commitment in front of your loved ones and the community; being able to protect your family.

Conversations, whether sparked in the Legislature, over lunch in the workplace or around the kitchen table, help the reachable but not yet reached resolve their conflicts, address their discomfort and rise to fairness. President Obama gave a powerful example when he spoke from the heart, explaining how he had come to change his mind and join the majority for marriage.

The President cited conversations he'd had with his staff and friends, his wife and his children. He talked about how his daughters couldn't conceive of why their classmates being raised by loving gay parents would be treated unfairly under the law, and he reflected on the values he and First Lady Michelle Obama are trying to teach their kids, the values of kindness, fairness and the Golden Rule - the values that argue for ending the denial of marriage.

Likewise, organizations such as the NAACP, the American Medical Association, the American Bar Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and numerous business and labor unions have all spoken out in support of the freedom to marry.

The freedom-to-marry bill won bipartisan support in both houses of the state Legislature, with both Republicans and Democrats underscoring how in Washington, as across America, hearts and minds are changing.

"I've allowed my heart and my mind to guide me in decisions that I've made on a lot of different issues that have been before us in the Legislature," explained Republican Rep. Maureen Walsh from Walla Walla as she choked up on the floor of the Washington House in February. "So I think to myself, how could I deny the right to have that incredible bond with another individual in life?"

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