Move over, Meg Ryan. Seattle has a new love story
There is a lot of love this Valentine’s Day in Washington State. Yesterday afternoon, the state’s Governor, Chris Gregoire, made good on her promise to introduce marriage equality when she signed Senate Bill 6239, a measure that legalises same-sex marriage in the Evergreen State.
While imprinting the bill with her signature and legal imprimatur in state capital, Olympia, Gov. Gregoire said:
Isn’t it time for this State to send a message all across the world that we, in this State, stand proudly for equality? If asked those questions with their heads and their hearts I believe the people of the State of Washington will say ‘Yes. Marriage equality is right for Washington and the time is now. The time is today.’
Gregoire introduced the bill last month to the houses of the State legislature, and it then began its journey through the upper and lower houses where it was debated, voted upon, passed and forwarded to her desk for gubernatorial approval. Washington now joins the six other US states and the District of Columbia which recognise marriage equality (For the table quiz aficionados among you, those other six states are: Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont).
The law comes into effect on June 7th so couples eager to take the stroll up the aisle will have to wait a little longer. The delay is unfortunately to allow time for opponents to the measure an opportunity to petition for it to be accepted or rejected by the people of Washington by way of a referendum*.
In order for the petition to become a ballot initiative, the petitioners have to gather 120,000 signatures by June 6th. One anti-marriage equality group, the ironically named ‘Preserve Marriage Washington’, immediately filed ‘Referendum 73’ yesterday afternoon and has enlisted the help of the nefarious National Organisation for Marriage. The National Organisation for Marriage can rightly be described as an anti-marriage lobby because it has previously used ballot initiatives similar to the one in Washington to overturn marriage equality in California and Maine. If the requisite 120,000 signatures are collected by June 6th then the measure will be suspended until its fate is decided by referendum in November.
The rights of minorities do not fare well when put to a vote by the majority and in all 31 referenda in US states on marriage equality, the majority have denied the right to marry to their fellow LGBT statesmen and women. Despite such an ominous record, Washington may buck the trend. Since 2006, Washington introduced employment, housing, banking, insurance and domestic partnership protections for LGBT people. The progressive realisation of equality for LGBT people culminated in the ‘Everything but marriage’ law that was passed in 2009.
Marriage equality advocates are prepared to fight back against any initiative to remove the hard-won and long-awaited legalisation of marriage for same-sex couples. Washington United for Marriage, a coalition group of marriage equality proponents that formed in November 2011 to lobby for the successful passage of the measure through the houses of legislature, has vowed to press onward and campaign against any referendum challenging the new marriage law.
Supporters of marriage equality are ready for the battle that may lie ahead. For today though, they can celebrate. Happy Valentine’s Day, Washington.
* A referendum that would strip LGB Washingtonians of the right to marry may seem at odds with last week’s decision from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on California’s Proposition 8, another ballot initiative that resulted in a referendum which removed the right to marry from same-sex couples. The 9th Circuit covers the US states ranging along the Pacific coast, and includes Washington. However, the decision in that judgment related to the particular set of circumstances in California where gay nuptials had already taken place in 2008 before Proposition 8 prohibited marriages between same-sex partners. In Washington, there will be no marriage licence issued for same-sex couples until the June 7th at the earliest or pending the outcome of the November referendum if Referendum 73 successfully secures enough signatures.