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Originally published May 6, 2009 at 12:00 AM | Page modified May 6, 2009 at 4:00 PM

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Danny Westneat

Debate about gay equality appears to be ending

Whatever you may think of Joe Fuiten — the Bothell megachurch pastor and family-values political activist — you gotta give him...

Seattle Times staff columnist

Whatever you may think of Joe Fuiten — the Bothell megachurch pastor and family-values political activist — you gotta give him points for bluntness.

Fuiten put out a revealing memo this week on gay marriage and domestic partnerships. To my eyes, it is the strongest sign yet that sweeping cultural change isn't just someday coming to our state.

It's already here.

Last month the state Legislature passed a bill that extends all the state-given benefits of being married to same-sex couples who register as domestic partners.

It's dubbed the "everything but marriage" law. Its point is: Homosexual marriage may still be illegal here, but in the meantime gay and lesbian couples should have the same legal protections as everyone else.

Fuiten and other conservative Christian leaders opposed the bill, arguing it's a precursor to gay marriage (which it is). Lately they've been debating whether to try to repeal it at the ballot box.

On Monday, Fuiten, pastor at Cedar Park Church, published the frank views of 34 right-leaning political or religious activists on the topic at his blog, franklyfuiten.com.

It's wide-ranging, so you should read it for yourself. My take-away was that our long debate about gay equality seems to be ending. Gays and lesbians have won. Nobody understands this better than the other side.

"I have seen nothing approaching religious and/or other opposition that amounts to a hill of beans," wrote Tom Henry, a GOP political consultant.

"Voters are immune or desensitized to the word 'gay marriage' right now. Besides, they think we hate them," wrote Josephine Wentzel, a Vancouver-area Christian conservative.

"With every passing day, we lose more young people to the postmodern philosophy (no absolutes) and older people (with the Judeo-Christian value) to death. Time is not on our side," wrote Heidi Lestelle, a Kitsap County Christian activist.

I called Fuiten. Though he and I disagree on many political issues — gay marriage in particular — we still stay in touch and debate. I asked him: Is the war over gay rights ending?

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No, he said. There will probably be at least one more big battle, over gay marriage. But domestic partnerships are a done deal.

"It's dumb to try to repeal it," he said. "We'd lose. We'd set our whole cause back."

Recent polls show about 40 to 45 percent of state voters support gay marriage, with another 20 to 25 percent in favor of some form of domestic partnerships. That leaves a thin third opposed to both.

None of this means Washington will someday take the final step and approve gay marriage (although I believe we will). But it is a sea change in attitudes nonetheless.

It wasn't long ago we were mired in a perennial, nasty fight over a gay civil-rights law that today looks mild in comparison. It took 25 years to pass that law (which made it harder to discriminate against gays in jobs and housing).

Now the state has catapulted gay relationships almost all the way to equality. And there's barely a ripple about it.

"I see more doubt than encouragement," wrote Bob Higley, founder of Washington Evangelicals for Responsible Government, about the idea of fighting the domestic-partnership law.

Only six of the 34 who wrote to Fuiten thought they should definitely attempt a repeal.

Fuiten says Christian conservatives plan instead to take a sort of "last stand" against gay marriage, perhaps in 2010. But even there some in his kitchen cabinet warned that people around here may be moving on.

"Many of the mainstream Republicans I've talked to think that the Republican message should focus on fiscal restraint, and that we Christians just don't understand that 'gay marriage' is just 'fair' and that Christians need to get over it," wrote Dave Griffin, a longtime friend and adviser to Fuiten.

Republicans are saying get over gay marriage?

That is the sound of change. Not one coming. One already here.

Danny Westneat's column appears Wednesday and Sunday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or dwestneat@seattletimes.com.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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About Danny Westneat

Danny Westneat takes an opinionated look at the Puget Sound region's news, people and politics. Send tips or comments to dwestneat@seattletimes.com. His column runs Wednesday and Sunday.
dwestneat@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2086

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