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House marriage vote and the GOP mom who backed it

Rep. Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla

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.”

Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, and an attorney, said, “This country was not founded on sexual liberty, but on religious liberty, and when those two clash, religious liberty should win out. We’re going to have potential massive new lawsuits on businesses that refuse to participate in a gay marriage. My business will refuse to participate in a same-sex marriage.” 

Rep. Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, talked about her same-sex partner of 23 years, their son, their minivan and beat-up 1999 sedan. “We will be falling squarely into the stereotype of soccer moms. …. (Marriage) is about standing before family and friends and making solemn vows to make a commitment for a lifetime,” she said.

Theoretically, Washington’s gay marriage law is supposed to go into effect on June 7. However, if gay marriage opponents turn in 120,577 signatures for a referendum repeal by June 6, the law will be put on hold pending the outcome of November’s public ballot. Both sides believe a referendum is inevitable.

The Associated Press reported that an October 2011 University of Washington poll found 43 percent of the respondents supported gay marriage, up from 30 percent in 2006. But 55 percent said they would uphold a gay marriage law if it were already on the books. Of those saying they had strong opinions pro or con, the AP reported that 47 percent would strongly support gay marriage if such a law were passed, while 38 percent posted strong opposition.

Both sides are gearing up for campaigns for and against gay marriage this summer and fall.

“I think it’s winnable. But nothing is a sure thing,” Pedersen said. 

Probable backers of an initiative to repeal Washington’s new gay marriage law include the Lynnwood-based Family Policy Institute led by Joseph Backholm, the Rev. Joe Fuiten of the Cedar Park Assembly of God Church, the Rev. Ken Hutcherson of Kirkland’s Antioch Bible Church, and the Washington D.C.-based National Organization for Marriage.

These groups have not yet fully organized a signature-gathering effort and follow-up initiative campaign. However, Backholm said they are farther along in organizing this early in the year than they were in 2009’s Referendum 71, which was an unsuccessful attempt to repeal Washington’s then-new domestic partnership rights law for gay and lesbian couples. It was the first such law in the United States. That initiative lost 53 percent to 47 percent statewide.

Backholm said Washington’s anti-gay-marriage effort would rely on expertise from people who conducted such campaigns in other states, including the National Organization for Marriage. That includes advice on how to conduct an anti-gay-marriage campaign without incurring a public backlash, he said. “My concern is that it (the campaign) be done respectfully,” Backholm said. 

The National Organization for Marriage has declared itself one of the nation’s biggest financial backers for anti-gay-marriage ballot measures. The National Organization for Marriage’s 2010 federal tax return Form 990 —  filed Nov. 15, 2011 — showed the group spent more money than it collected in 2010. The organization reported $9.19 million in revenue and $10.67 million in expenses. Roughly 88 percent of its 2010 revenue — $8.1 million — came from five contributors whose names were not listed on the 990 form.

The National Organization for Marriage has promised to contribute $250,000 to defeat each Republican Washington state senator who voted for gay marriage last week. This translates to a $1 million promise to defeat Republicans Cheryl Pflug of Maple Valley, Steve Litzow of Mercer Island, Joe Fain of Auburn, and Andy Hill of Redmond.

“Washington legislators may think it’s politically fashionable to follow Hollywood over the cliff, but they will soon learn there are consequences to their actions,” said Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage in a blog entry on the organization’s Web site. “Maine voters vetoed their gay marriage law and then a year later threw the legislators out of office. In Iowa, voters kicked three judges off their state Supreme Court for deciding to impose same-sex marriage. And in New Hampshire, voters also ended the careers of legislators who voted for gay marriage. The same thing will happen in Washington state.”

The National Organization for Marriage’s Washington D.C. office did not return phone calls this week for comment.

The National Organization for Marriage contributed $1.8 million to California’s Proposition 8 in 2008, which repealed that state’s gay marriage law. On Tuesday, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s ruling that overturned Proposition 8, saying an existing right cannot be repealed by a public referendum in California. That ruling is expected to be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Backholm is optimistic that Washington’s voters would repeal a gay marriage law, noting that voters in 31 states have put anti-gay marriage statutes in their laws or constitutions. 

Backholm downplayed United Church of Christ, Jewish, and Lutheran ministers, rabbis, and officials testifying for a gay marriage law before state Senate and House committees. He countered that “churched” people will be overwhelming against a gay-marriage law. He said he did not know how to address a frequently quoted piece of so-called political conventional wisdom in Washington that any election needs to capture 40 percent of the votes in predominantly liberal Seattle to win statewide. 

When asked why the House, Senate, and governor ended up strongly supporting gay marriage if a supposed majority of Washingtonians oppose it, Backholm contended that the legislators and Gregoire are doing it to receive significant financial donations from special interests. “It’s about the money. They get lots of money to do things like this,” Backholm said.

Backholm believes limiting marriage to between a man and a woman is a one of the “social and moral laws of the universe. … The laws of the universe are not subject to debate.  … We are dealing with things much larger than people’s feelings.” 

In Backholm’s eyes, state law and marriage-for-love should not mix.

“Marriage (as recognized by a state) is not about love fundamentally. … It is a social good to attach parents to each other and to the children,” Backholm said.

He acknowledged that the state licenses marriages for straight couples who never have children, but argued that they are exceptions and state law should be tailored toward most heterosexual couple having children. “Public policy should deal with the aggregate, not the exceptions,” he said.

Backholm also acknowledged most couples — including he and his wife — get married because they love each other. Still, he argued, if the state allows love to be the main basis for marriage, it could lead to polygamous marriages.

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