Thursday, February 16, 2012

Passed: Washington state legalizes gay marriage

Gov. Gregoire joins six other governors in signing gay marriage legislation

By Jack Sorensen, Focus Editor

Washington state took a vow Monday to support gay marriage, joining six other states and Washington, D.C. in defining marriage between two consenting adults, regardless of sex.

Governor Christine Gregoire, democrat, signs two rainbow gay and lesbian pride flags Monday brought to her by members from Washington United for Marriage. Following her speech and ceremonial signing Monday, the governor posed for photos with legislators, lobbyists and citizens for around 30 minutes. Photo by Jack Sorensen.

The referendum confusion

How it works

Washington state’s legislative history is uniquely characterized by populist-influenced initiative/referendum legislature.  In the case of a referendum, which many proponents and opponents of the recent gay marriage law predict, opponents of legislation must garner a predetermined number of signatures by a certain date.

What happens now

  • Opponents of the new law are now supporters of a referendum signature drive.
  • Supporters of Ref. 73, the proposed referendum for Washington’s gay marriage law, must collect 120,577 signatures by June 6, or the law will take effect the following day.
  • If supporters of the Ref. 73 petition get enough signatures, the gay marriage law will go to a public vote as Ref. 73 in November.
  • In an often confusing switch, supporters of the Ref. 73  petition now oppose the law, voting “no” on the ballot.
  • Thus, initial supports of the Washington gay marriage law, who formerly opposed the Ref. 73 petition for public vote, now support the referendum, voting “yes.”
“I’m proud of who and what we are in this state,” Democratic Governor Christine Gregoire said as she touched pen to paper, championing the state legislature for what she called a historic moment—one of her most memorable in seven years of governorship, she said.

“I’m proud to sign this bill bringing marriage equality to the great state of Washington,” Gregoire said to an overcrowded state room.

The new law will take effect June 7 unless opponents collect enough signatures by June 6 to file for a referendum vote. Monday’s public event drew in over 300 people, exceeding the state room’s capacity, while two groups of 50 stood watching the live broadcast in the rotunda, an on-duty state trooper said.

The ceremonial signing followed two weeks of fast legislation as the bill was passed 55-43 in the state House of Representatives and 28-21 in the state Senate. When it arrived on Gregoire’s desk, her office immediately announced she would sign it into law. Legislators, lobbyists and gay and lesbian families crowded the capitol building Monday to witness the birth of Washington’s new law.

Charles and Mark Jorgenson, a gay couple from Brownspoint, Wash., brought one of their two children to meet “and thank” the governor, Charles Jorgenson said. The couple married in Canada in 2005, but said they were still “overjoyed” their marriage would be recognized in their home state.

“I’ve wanted this for my whole life,” Charles Jorgenson said. Governor Gregoire was flanked by supporting lobbyists and legislators as she signed the bill Monday, including recent YouTube-famous Maureen Walsh, a republican representative from Walla Walla. In a move she acknowledged ran counter to her party’s traditional stance, Walsh spoke to the House of Representatives last week expressing her support for the marriage bill.

“I’ve had some folks who are certainly not happy,” Walsh said. “You know what, at some point if you got a conscience around here you gotta vote your conscience.” Walsh, whose daughter came out as a lesbian several years ago, said the negative response has been drowned by “heartwarming” feedback from voters young and old. The night before the signing, Walsh received a text message from a young lesbian girl that the girl’s mother spoke to her “for the first time in five years” after watching Walsh’s video.

As for her recent video, which has almost 1.4 million combined views, Walsh said she had not paid much attention to the fame. “Somebody said to me the day of my speech, ‘well you know you’ve gone viral,’ and I didn’t even know what that meant,” she said. “I thought, ‘well do I need to get antibiotics or something?’”

Marriage law draws objections

The governor’s decision to sign the marriage bill into law has drawn opposition and criticism from republicans and religious institutions across the state. Gregoire, a Roman Catholic, received instant criticism from the Roman Catholic Church of Washington, as reported by the Associated Press.

Opponents of the new law, led by Preserve Marriage Washington, immediately filed for Referendum 73, which would put the law to public vote in November. In order to make the November ballot, however, gay marriage opponents must collect 120,577 signatures on the Ref. 73 petition by June 6. If Preserve Marriage Washington succeeds, Washington voters will vote on the law during the next election cycle.

Even proponents of the new law, including Walsh and the Jorgensons, agreed the opponents would have no problem collecting enough signatures.

Monday’s event preceded peacefully, with quiet opposition led by the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic organization publicly opposed to same-sex marriage, according to the Knights of Columbus website.

“We believe that a marriage is between a man and a woman and there are no other implications about it at all,” Kim Washburn, grand knight for the Knights of Columbus Olympia chapter, told a Mooring Mast reporter in a phone interview. Washburn did not disclose whether he or his organization would be participating in the Ref. 73 campaign.

Olympia’s opponents were overshadowed, however, by the last-minute appearance of republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum in Tacoma late Monday evening. Santorum spoke in Olympia earlier in the afternoon, but expounded on his opposition at his 7 p.m. rally at the Washington State History Museum.

Santorum’s event was primarily a campaign stop, and the candidate focused on several national issues. He did, however, take time to speak to governor’s recent news.

“When you have the courts and you have people basically saying that we have no rational basis to hold an opinion that marriage is between a man and a woman then you’ve really crossed a line,” Santorum told The Mooring Mast in an interview following his engagement. “That’s a very dangerous thing.”

Santorum’s rally was attended by more than 200 community members, including local Occupy Tacoma protestors. The protestors, who positioned themselves in the front of the event crowd, shouted and chanted under Santorum’s entire speech, using now-popularized Occupy protest chants including, “We are the 99 percent.” The presence of the Occupy movement in the midst of a conservative republican rally resulted in vocal tension between the two groups, as Santorum supporters and Occupiers shouted back and forth.

After a brief altercation, one Occupy protester was tased and removed from the rally as Santorum supporters chanted, “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” Tacoma police reported at least four arrests made during Santorum’s rally.

Marriage equality splits Pacific Lutheran

As Monday’s news buzzed through the PLU student body, the national divisiveness that characterizes the issue similarly split the campus community.

Junior Nick Russ said he found Gregoire’s timing humorous, given Satorum was in the state, though he supported the new law. “I think it should have been done sooner and I hope other Northwestern states will do the same,” Russ said. “It should be national.”

But first-year Dillion George said he did not know Washington had even passed a gay marriage law. “I don’t really pay attention to most of that stuff,” he said. He had clear opinions as soon as he found out.

“I’m pretty headstrong about it. To me it’s just something that’s just so obviously wrong that it’s not even a debate whether it’s okay or not it’s so out in the open,” George said.

For George and many other students, religion is pivotal in their opposition of gay marriage.

Two years ago the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, of which PLU is a member, announced it would recognize the long-term relationships of gay and lesbian Lutherans, PLU Pastor Dennis Sepper said. While the church referred to the relationships as “unions,” stopping just short of the word “marriage,” Sepper said the ELCA went so far as to develop public vow ceremonies for gay and lesbian couples wishing to “publicly commit” their relationships.

But Sepper said he believes defining these unions as marriages is completely acceptable.

“For me, if it looks like a marriage, walks like a marriage, talks like a marriage … it’s pretty much the same,” he said. Throughout his career in the church, Sepper said he has known many gay and lesbian couples who “serve Christ and just happen to have that orientation.”

“Why wouldn’t we want them to find someone like the rest of us to spend their life with?” Sepper questioned.

Story compiled with the assistance of Photo Editor Emily Biggs.