|Believe me, I wouldn't ordinarily find |
reason to post a picture of Christine
Gregoire on this blog. But she does
deserve recognition for finally
showing some chutzpah.
Gov. Christine Gregoire, second-term incumbent who has declined to seek a third term, and is, incidentally, a practicing Catholic, announced last Wednesday that she'd personally introduce legislation to legalize same-sex marriage in Washington state this year. "To me, the state's responsibility is to absolutely ensure equality," she said at last week's press conference in Olympia. "The other is a religious issue, and I leave it to the churches to make that call about marriage."
Amen. It's about damn time.
In my view, the only reason gay marriage isn't already legal in Washington is that the state legislature, to some extent, reflects the culture of this region — pragmatic, polite, but averse to confrontation or risk. It's the reason why drivers in Seattle are far less likely to honk their horn at you, but will scream at you from inside their car, even though they know you can't hear. It also might be the reason why lawmakers in Olympia are behind the voters on certain issues, like this one.
The religious (not to be confused with righteous) opposition has already vowed to take the measure to the ballot next November if it passes. My response to them? Bring it.
About three years ago, Gregoire signed the "everything but marriage law," which, precisely as its name implies, conferred to gay and lesbian couples the same rights and responsibilities as married couples in the state of Washington — just without the title "marriage." At the time, social conservatives did exactly what they threaten to do now: take the issue to voters, who, they predicted, would repeal the law at the polls.
They were wrong. In November 2009, Washington voters approved Referendum 71, upholding the legislation and marking the first time that a U.S. state expanded gay rights through public vote. Remarkably, it was an off-year election, which usually means a higher turnout of older, more conservative voters, and a lower turnout of young, progressive ones.
Fast-forward to 2012. A recent University of Washington poll found that 55 percent would vote to retain the gay-marriage law, and only 38 percent would vote to reject it. (A second poll by a lesser-known political consulting agency confirmed this finding.) These are fairly solid numbers, particularly leading up to a presidential election. Turnout will be huge, especially in the greater Seattle area, including King County, the state's largest with just shy of 2 million residents, where support for the law will be strongest.
Those factors notwithstanding, Washington this year will also likely vote on an initiative to legalize marijuana for recreational use (more on this in a future post). Between that, the presidential election, and other high-profile statewide races, there will be no shortage of progressive voters casting ballots in November.
This is why, from a strategic perspective, 2012 is an ideal year to finally establish marriage equality in the Evergreen State. Though I deplore the very notion of putting others' basic rights to a public vote, Washington law unfortunately makes it far too easy for that to happen. (Pretty much any well-resourced group that's unhappy about a state law can force a ballot measure to overturn it, regardless of whether their position lines up with public sentiment.) If it's an inevitability — and it almost certainly is — let's get it over with now.
The silver lining? I believe that the anti-gay-rights contingent is again making a mistake in calculating that state voters will agree with their mean-spirited position. If Washington state again affirms the rights of same-sex couples at the ballot, as it did in 2009, it will further erode the opposition's self-righteous contention that "the public is on our side" on the issue.
In the year 2012, that's no longer an argument they should be able to make.