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Originally published January 22, 2012 at 8:02 PM | Page modified January 22, 2012 at 10:21 PM

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A state with justice and marriage for all

Legalizing same-sex marriage is the right direction for Washington and the country, columnist Jerry Large says.

Seattle Times staff columnist

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Washington state is just a vote away from legalizing marriage for same-sex couples. If the folks wrangling votes in the Legislature can get over the top, we will have a more just and equitable state.

Not everyone sees it that way, of course, and even legalizing marriage won't erase everyone's biases against same-sex couples, but having the law be right is a significant step forward and an indication that society is evolving in its understanding of sex and civil rights.

Polls show more Americans now support the idea of same-sex marriage than oppose it. Most people like to go with the flow, so I expect that support to grow. Going with the crowd isn't always a good thing, but in this case the crowd is going the right direction. It's picking up speed, too.

Six states and the District of Columbia have made same-sex marriages legal, and so have two Native American tribes, the Coquille in Oregon and the Suquamish in Kitsap County.

The Washington bill is scheduled for its first public hearing Monday, and there has been lots of discussion of it over the past week.

Microsoft and several other companies sent a letter to the Legislature last week declaring support for the marriage-equality legislation. The six companies — Microsoft, Vulcan, Nike, RealNetworks, Group Health Cooperative and Concur — said passing the bill is the right thing to do and that it would be good for their businesses.

Microsoft has argued it would be at a disadvantage trying to attract talented people if Washington isn't among the states that recognize marriage as a civil right for same-sex couples.

In one of the comments on a Seattle Times story about the letter, a reader said he'd have to buy Apple products now. Several people reminded him that Apple has been on the marriage-equality bus for years.

The momentum keeps growing, even across that seemingly impermeable divide between Democrats and Republicans.

Metropolitan King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn caught flack for backing the bill, but he's not the only Republican politician on board. The Associated Press, in its count of supporters and opponents, listed two Republican senators as backers of the bill, Cheryl Pflug, of Maple Valley, and Steve Litzow, of Mercer Island.

The AP quoted Pflug: "I don't feel diminished when another human being is allowed to exercise the same rights that I enjoy. I would feel diminished if I voted to deny others the right to exercise those same rights and freedoms."

That is a difficult stand for many politicians to take, because even as support grows for equal-marriage laws, opposition is still strong and vocal.

People who hold conservative interpretations of religious texts are a particular challenge.

Last week, the state's Catholic bishops issued a statement saying the legislation would add to the forces already undermining family life, and asked Catholics to talk with their legislators about the bill.

The bill's chief sponsor, Sen. Ed Murray (D-Seattle) and Gov. Chris Gregoire, who asked that the legislation be introduced, both are Catholic.

Gregoire wrestled with the issue and only endorsed same-sex marriage this month, when she announced she would introduce the legislation now being considered. She said the decision made her feel good.

And it's about time the institution of marriage got some good news.

Marriage rates have been falling since the 1970s, and some folks have said matrimony is headed toward irrelevance. It's ailing, but marriage is not only still relevant, it also remains a big economic advantage for a household, one that more people ought to be able to take advantage of.

Passing legislation state by state is a long, slow way to get there. What I expect to happen is that momentum toward marriage equality will make change at the federal level inevitable.

I'm optimistic. I know people don't always do the right thing, or even know what the right thing is. But I've also seen other barriers fall when that seemed impossible.

In 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned laws against interracial marriage in a case brought by Mildred Loving and her husband, Richard, against the state of Virginia. She was black and Native American. He was white.

In 2007, a year before she died, Mildred Loving said, "I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom to marry. Government has no business imposing some people's religious beliefs over others. Especially if it denies people's civil rights. ... I support the freedom to marry for all."

It's not always valid to make comparisons between movements for civil rights because each is unique, but what remains constant is that people will struggle against injustice, and none of us, when we see it, should stand silent.

Jerry Large's column appears Monday and Thursday. Reach him at 206-464-3346 or jlarge@seattletimes.com.

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About Jerry Large

I try to write about the intersections of everyday life and big issues. I like to invite readers to think a little differently. The topics I choose represent the things in which I take an interest, and I try to deal with them the way most folks would, sometimes seriously, sometimes with a sense of humor. My column runs Mondays and Thursdays.
jlarge@seattletimes.com | 206-464-3346

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