Ryan Blethen / Times editorial columnist
Referendum 71 shows Washington's strategy for marriage equality is working
Washington's strategy of incrementally moving toward marriage equality for gays and lesbians paid off in the passage of Referendum 71, writes Editorial Page Editor Ryan Blethen. Celebrate the victory but know there is more work to do.
Times editorial page editor
The gay and lesbian community broke through another barrier to equality last week with the approval of Referendum 71.
The struggle for equal rights has been a long, frustrating battle for lesbians and gays. This victory is a major step toward equality but there is still work to be done.
Before that work begins, the gay and lesbian community should take a moment and enjoy what happened last week. It is no small thing that Washingtonians believe that gays and lesbians are owed basic rights granted to heterosexual couples. It was only 11 years ago that the Legislature instituted the Defense of Marriage Act, which limits marriage to heterosexuals. Only three years ago, the Washington state Supreme Court upheld the discriminatory law.
This campaign was not about marriage equality. This campaign was about ensuring all families are treated equally. R-71 upheld Senate Bill 5688, which was passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor. The "everything but marriage" bill expands domestic-partnership rights to lesbians, gays and elderly couples.
Even though R-71 wasn't about gays and lesbians marrying, it is a building block upon which marriage equality will happen.
As I watched the election results Tuesday night and saw R-71 winning, I thought of state Sen. Ed Murray, one of the chief architects of Washington's equality movement.
Murray is the state's highest-ranking openly gay elected official. He was first elected in Seattle's 43rd District as a state representative, later elevating to senator.
His strategy of moving at a deliberate pace has often put him at odds with the community.
"There was quite the intense discussions among gay and lesbian leaders both in the state and nationally about what to do. I was in the minority of not wanting to do everything at once," Murray said.
Murray's incremental, even cautious, approach paid off. He gained momentum in 2006 with the passing of his bill protecting lesbians and gays from discrimination in housing, employment and financial transactions.
The next year, the Legislature expanded some marriage benefits to same-sex couples with a domestic-partnership registry. Those rights were expanded again in 2008.
Then came "everything but marriage" this year, which motivated those opposed to equality to force the new law onto the ballot.
Protect Marriage Washington, the force behind the opposition, failed. Voters saw through their ridiculous argument that gays and lesbians having nearly all the rights of marriage would harm families. Voters didn't buy the fire-and-brimstone theatrics because they have seen that gay and lesbian families are not different from their own.
Marriage equality has been defeated almost everywhere else that has not taken the methodical route of Washington. Maine's Legislature passed a marriage-equality bill that was quickly put up for referendum. It lost last week. As a former resident of Maine, I'm saddened by this. I truly believe that, had Maine first had an "everything but marriage" law, the bill would have been upheld.
I get why Murray has been at odds with other lesbian and gay leaders. The tactic of chipping away at exclusionary laws is frustratingly slow. It can also be perceived as timid and passive, especially in the face of the hollow arguments put forth by the opposition.
Sadly, there should be no opposition from a legal standpoint. As I have written before, the state should not be allowed to deny gay and lesbian couples the right to marry if it provides it for heterosexual couples. That is discrimination.
We're not where we should be but we can at least now see where we need to be. Enjoy the moment but know that the last push for equality might be the toughest.
Ryan Blethen's column appears Sunday on editorial pages of The Times. His e-mail address is: email@example.com
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