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December 10, 2012 at 12:00 PM

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Celebrating Washington's acceptance of same-sex marriage rights

I've witnessed so much over the past few days. My admiration for Washington has morphed into intense pride.

This year's victory in the name of marriage equality has convinced me that love conquers fear, minds can change, and the best is yet to come for our state.

I only attended one wedding event over the weekend: Sunday's public reception at the Paramount Theater. It was an incredible sight to behold.

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In the photo above, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn is on stage toasting hundreds of couples. State Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, also appeared before the adoring audience to declare a bittersweet victory following his 17-year struggle to shepherd same-sex marriage rights through the Legislature. Outgoing Gov. Chris Gregoire reminded the children in the audience that their parents have waited a long time for this moment — and Washington voters have set a precedent for other states to follow.

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"Today in Washington state, same-sex couples [are the] first in the United States to be legally married through a popular vote of the people," Gregoire said to the cheering crowd. "It's just really sweet to know our fellow Washingtonians said 'yes' to equality."

Very sweet, indeed.

I've lived in five places outside Washington state. You just don't see this kind of openness to social progress every day, especially from the state's highest-level public officials.

For the first dance of the evening, Seattle singer Choklat belted out a stirring rendition of the Etta James classic, "At Last." So apt.

OUTSIDE KING COUNTY

Last Thursday, I spent the day in Chehalis. I was on a dual assignment with the editorial board and "This American Life" to find out how the new law is being received in a rural county. (The producers ended up not having enough time to include the audio in their "This Week" show, but I'm so glad I had the chance to make the journey south.)

Four couples showed up sporadically throughout the day. It was nothing like the long lines in King County. The scene was quiet. No protests or hecklers at the courthouse, either. Even in this conservative enclave, where voters rejected Referendum 74 by a 2 to 1 margin, people mostly kept to themselves.

The betrothed whom I spoke with—all of them men — expressed deep gratitude to those who voted in favor of their right to be legally recognized as spouses.

"I just have to say thank you to King County for carrying us over the threshold," said Steve bell, a Centralia biologist engaged to his partner of three years, Erik Higgins.

Steve Koreis and Gordon MacLeod (lower left corner) were the first to arrive at the court house. Voravee "AJ" Jittipsopa and John Paul Zinner (upper right corner) walked through the doors a few minutes later. Leonard Miller and Milt Mayberry (not pictured) registered after 34 years together in Randall; Roy Matson and Clyde Gartner of Centralia (lower right corner) have been partners for 12 years.

“I feel this momentum gathering,"Gartner said, as his voice began to quiver. "There’s going to be same-sex marriage nationwide. I just never thought I’d live to see it."

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The recording deputies in the auditor's office treated the couples with the same kind of dignity as the heterosexual couples who also came in that day. It was a testament to the staff's professionalism, regardless of their personal views.

Of course, model behavior starts at the top.

Lewis County Auditor Gary Zandell is a staunch Republican. He has served in this elected position since 1980. The Seattle native jokes that voters in his GOP-leaning county get "swallowed up by King County" and its residents' liberal ways.

Zandell (pictured below) maintains a stoic demeanor, but I appreciated his frank answers to my questions about the politics of this rural area.

"[Same-sex marriage] is anathema to so many people. It’s unusual. It’s strange. But that doesn’t mean that [the old law] was fair," he told me. "One-third of our population here still voted for Referendum 74. These are not all young people in their 20s and 30s. They're people in their 60s, 70s and 80s that are involved in that. You’re looking at one of them. I did it on an equity issue — fairness."

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Here's a look at the state's former marriage certificate (top) compared to the new gender-neutral version (bottom). The former labeled applicants as 'Bride' and 'Groom'; the latter references 'Spouse A' and Spouse B' in side-by-side boxes.

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Last Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would weigh in on two marriage cases.

I hope they consider what's happening here in Washington.

There are those who may never come around to accepting same-sex marriage, but the people of this great state are showing that it's possible for different viewpoints to co-exist.

On behalf of the editorial board, congratulations to the newlyweds!

(All photos are from my Instagram feed.)


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