Local gay-marriage supporters revel in timing of Obama's visit
Gay-marriage supporters in Washington are cheering President Obama's endorsement of same-sex marriage, while opponents believe the endorsement was a bad move politically.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Supporters of same-sex marriage in Washington state are collecting signatures for a thank-you card they expect to present to President Obama during his visit to Seattle on Thursday.
They are hailing Obama's embrace of gay marriage, saying his endorsement on Wednesday could boost support for an issue that's been divisive in this state and is the subject of two measures aimed at the November ballot.
Their opponents, who want to stop same-sex marriage through these ballot measures, accused Obama of flip-flopping on this issue, and called his announcement a "political miscalculation" that's unlikely to sway many voters.
Obama announced his support for gay marriage as an Illinois state Senate hopeful in 1996 but later said he opposed it and since 2010 has described his position as evolving — leading in recent weeks to mounting pressure for him to "evolve, already."
His endorsement comes at a time when the gay-rights movement could use some good news. On Tuesday, North Carolinians voted 61 percent to 39 percent to constitutionally ban all forms of gay unions in their state.
In Colorado, a bill that would have allowed same-sex civil unions failed to advance to a full vote on the last day of the legislative session, while in Alaska voters turned down an initiative to extend legal protections for gay and transgender residents.
Here in Washington, state Sen. Ed Murray, who sponsored the same-sex-marriage bill passed by the Legislature earlier this year, said he believes that Obama's support will help influence those voters still evolving on the question of gay marriage.
"The more public attention this issue gets the more it moves voters in the direction of supporting marriage equality," Murray said.
Opponents of gay marriage, looking to undo the state's new same-sex-marriage law, are collecting signatures in the hopes of placing Referendum 74 on the November ballot. They need to gather 150,000 signatures by June 6, at least 120,577 of which must be valid. According to Preserve Marriage Washington's website, it has gathered 75,002 so far.
A second ballot measure being circulated by same-sex-marriage opponents, Initiative 1192, needs 300,000 signatures by July 6. It would affirm that marriage in Washington is between a man and a woman.
Josh Friedes, of Equal Rights Washington, said he believes Obama's announcement will help influence voters' position on gay marriage.
"It provides a catalyst for people to stop, pause and think about what marriage means to their gay and lesbian friends and neighbors," Friedes said.
But opponents of gay marriage say that despite the temporary elation the president's support brings to gays and their advocates, it doesn't change the fact that in state after state, voters are still rejecting such unions.
Pastor Joe Fuiten of Cedar Park Church and a backer of Ref. 74, said the president is misreading public support for same-sex marriage.
The outcome in North Carolina, he said, "was not even close," and he pointed out that voters in 29 other states have taken the same position against gay marriage. Further, Fuiten noted a recent Gallup poll that showed support for gay marriage down from a year ago.
Ultimately, he said, "I don't think his decision will necessarily have much influence: Democrats are already convinced and Republicans are not likely to be.
"It was a bad political move for Obama; he really should have stayed where he was."
Peter Nicolas, a law professor at the University of Washington who teaches a course on gay rights and the Constitution, said it is unlikely the president's support of gay marriage will cause huge swings on the issue.
Obama's support for same-sex marriage means "his entire campaign apparatus supports it too and will be pushing that issue hard in Washington state. In that way it could indirectly affect the outcome," he said.
Where it is likely to have more sway, he believes, is among African Americans who hold Obama in high regard as the nation's first African-American president.
Traditionally, African Americans have not supported same-sex marriage in large numbers.
The Rev. Reggie Witherspoon of Mount Calvary Christian Center said he believes Obama's decision could influence some African Americans — but not him.
Witherspoon said he believes in the preservation of marriage as between one man and one woman, ordained by God.
And he believes that Obama, in affirming his support for gay marriage, was compromising his own convictions for the sake of politics.
He's disappointed in him for that, but still supports him, saying that when he voted in 2008 it was not for a religious leader but "for a leader of the free world who could respond to more than one issue."
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