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Originally published December 7, 2012 at 9:46 PM | Page modified December 13, 2012 at 2:16 PM

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Gay marriage, legal pot: Conservatives wonder what's happening to this state

Bombarded with seemingly endless, breathless news coverage of same-sex couples getting married and respectable people lighting joints in public, some people who voted no on these measures say they consider themselves to be missionaries in a heathen world.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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In the wake of Washington's historic votes to legalize both same-sex marriage and marijuana use, some longtime conservatives say they're contemplating moving to more like-minded states — say, Texas.

Bombarded with seemingly endless, breathless news coverage of same-sex couples getting married and respectable people lighting joints in public, some "no" voters say they consider themselves missionaries in a heathen world. Sometimes that's a tongue-in-cheek crack — other times, not so much.

"I feel like I'm living in pagan Rome," said Dan Kennedy, CEO of Human Life of Washington, who has worked on conservative issues here since 2000. "I just couldn't believe we had gone that far."

It wasn't as if the votes were a total surprise. State Republican Party Chairman Kirby Wilbur noted Washington voters' previous approval of abortion and physician-assisted aid in dying.

"Washington has always been a socially liberal and economically conservative state," he said. "I think the votes show that."

Predictably, socially liberal voters in the Puget Sound region outnumbered voters in less populous, often more conservative, areas of the state.

Both issues also received scattered support from other regions of the state. Voters in Whitman County approved both measures. Spokane, Ferry, Okanogan, Chelan and Skamania counties approved legalizing marijuana use, as did Clallam, Jefferson, Grays Harbor and Pacific counties on the Pacific Coast.

The nine counties with the most vociferous votes against same-sex marriage were less negative about marijuana. Voters in Adams County, for example, brought in the highest no vote on same-sex marriage: nearly 72 percent. But only 61 percent could bring themselves to favor banning the bud.

Nineteen counties voted no on both measures, but their votes were outweighed by heavy support in the more populated areas; Adams' no votes on same-sex marriage, for example, totaled 3,394 — mist against King County's tidal wave of 638,939 yes votes.

What the yes votes mean is still up for interpretation.

"Elevating desires"

To David DeWolf, who teaches law at Gonzaga University, a Catholic institution in Spokane, the votes reflect individuals disconnecting from the rest of society, "elevating the desires of the individual over the needs of the community."

DeWolf, a Catholic, sees the votes as "sort of a reversion to a less developed way of living," he said. "The impulse here is a kind of selfish, me-oriented way of not wanting to think about the impact my behavior might have on the rest of society."

He, too, thinks about ancient Rome. "The introduction of Christianity was the introduction of a way of understanding ourselves that says we're made for better things, we're capable of real charity and concern for one another and living a life of virtue."

Christian virtues, which he believes were ignored in this election, have created "much of what we value in society," DeWolf said. "In my mind, this is an unhappy reversion to a pagan understanding of ourselves and of society."

Steve Beren, a conservative Christian political consultant from Seattle who has run unsuccessfully against U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott, says just because something is celebrated doesn't mean it's right. "I feel bad for those people, because they're celebrating what they're doing wrong," he says.

He sees the votes as giving license to people to do other things he considers wrong. Each time something "clearly wrong or obviously immoral" is given sanction, celebrated or even ignored, it implicitly sanctions other immoral acts, he says — for example, President Clinton's sexual transgressions.

Despite seeing the recent votes as moral deterioration, "I don't necessarily buy that it's irreversible," Beren says. "If you go back into history, you'll see they were burning people at the stake and sacrificing children."

Too much government

Wilbur, the GOP party chairman — who describes himself as a "devout Lutheran" — says he believes that voters who said yes to same-sex marriage and pot don't necessarily support those things. "I think people are saying, 'It's none of the government's business,' " he said. "I think there's a strong libertarian streak out there."

As a political leader, he isn't inclined to move to another state, he said.

"I'm not going to give up my home state quite so easily, and no reason why I should. There's hope out there! There's people I've got to convince they're wrong."

Besides, Wilbur quipped, "Our hope is people smoke enough pot, they'll forget to vote, and then we'll win."

But for now, the latest votes make some conservatives, and even moderates who voted "no," feel out of place.

Kennedy, of Human Life, says friends have been talking seriously about moving to more conservative states, such as Texas.

"It's not fun always feeling like an outsider," he said. "I feel like I should carry around a sign that says, 'Unclean, unclean.' "

Still, he says, somebody has to hold the line against devolution.

"This is missionary country, I guess. If you want to fight the battle, you've got to be on the front line, and this is the front line."

His daughter, Lisa, a 21-year-old senior at Seattle University, has had the same uncomfortable experience.

She thought that by going to a Catholic school, she said, she'd be surrounded by like-minded conservatives.

That's not how it went.

Now, she's compiling notes for a book she's tentatively titled, "A Conservative Fish in Liberal Sea(ttle)."

"It's hard to always be around people who disagree with me," says Lisa Kennedy. "Abortion, gay marriage — I either have to hold my tongue around them or start an argument."

Carol M. Ostrom: 206-464-2249 or costrom@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @costrom.

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