Maureen Walsh is a 51-year-old widow, Walla Walla restaurant owner, and mother of three.
And she's a Republican representative for Eastern Washington's 16th District.
Two years ago, Walsh found out she's the mother of a lesbian. "By God, I wanna throw a wedding for that kid. Domestic partnership — to me, that sounds like a Merry Maids franchise," Walsh said.
On Wednesday, she told the Washington House of Representatives about her 23-year marriage and about missing her husband, who died six years ago.
She doesn't really miss the sex . . . well, maybe she does a bit. "But I really miss that incredible bond I had with another human being. How can I deny that incredible bond to any individual?" she asked.
"To me, that seems incredibly cruel. ... This is about equality. Why in the world would we not allow legal rights to these individuals?"
Easy House passage was expected, but there is likely to be brutal political fighting before the outcome is actually decided in an expected referendum campaign to block the law. Already, a national right-wing group has pledged to bring down Walsh's Republican colleagues who supported gay marriage in the Senate last week.
Still, cheers erupted from the galleries just after the state House of Representatives voted 55-43 — mostly along party lines — to legalize gay marriage in Washngton. Walsh and Rep. Glenn Anderson, R-Fall City, crossed party lines to vote for the bill. Democrat Reps. Christopher Hurst of Enumclaw, Steve Kirby of Tacoma, and Mark Miloscia of Federal Way voted against legalizing gay marriage.
The Senate passed the same bill last week 28-21. The House has had a solid pro-gay marriage majority for a long time. Gov. Chris Gregoire announced on Jan. 4 that she would sign a gay marriage bill — a bill that legalizes gay marriage but allows individual churches and ministers to decline to conduct such marriages because of their religious beliefs. That signing is expected next week.
The bill's passage has been the result of patient, incremental gains mapped out of Rep. Jamie Pedersen and Sen. Ed Murray, both Seattle Democrats, over many years.
"I never had any question that this would happen," said Pedersen after Wednesday's vote. "I never expected it to happen this soon." Pedersen expressed hope that many elderly people will be able to marry their same-sex partners in the twilight of their lives.
"Domestic partnership is a pale and inadequate subsitute for marriage. ... 'Marriage' is the word that society uses to describe a long-term domestic partnership," said Pedersen, a lifelong Lutheran who has a 10-year relationship with his partner, Eric Pedersen. The pair has four sons — Tryg, Leif, Erik, and Anders. Kneeling before a beloved to propose a domestic partnership is not the same as kneeling to propose marriage, Rep. Pedersen said.
Pedersen talked about gays and lesbians not being considered spouses during times of grief and worry when dealing with emergency rooms and funeral homes. Even TurboTax software doesn't recognize domestic partners on joint tax returns, he said. Washington currently has roughly 19,000 domestic partnerships.
Wednesday's House debate lasted roughly two-and-half hours, more than twice as long as in the Senate last week.
"We were not sent here by the people to redefine marriage," said Rep Jim McCune, R-Graham.
Rep. Jay Rodne, R-North Bend, said the difference between a marriage and domestic partnerships is tiny, subtle, and hard to define. "Are we really going to undermine the institution of marriage because of an inconvenience?" he said.
"Marriage is about life," Rodne said. "It's about joining a man and a woman as husband and wife and as a mother and father and linking them to their natural-born children. ... It's not about self-actualization or self-identification. For the first time in Washington's history, marriage will serve to sever relations between a child and one of the child's biological parents. This bill is really an exercise in raw political power. ... It's progressive engineering in its most extreme and damaging form."
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