Censured but still outspoken: A Republican legislator stands up for marriage equity

Maureen Walsh's impromptu speech on marriage for all went viral. As a statewide vote on the issue approaches, Walsh looks at the path that led to a split with some in her party.

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Edwards has made it clear that she believes in the “traditional definition of marriage [as] the coming together of one man and one woman to create children and provide a stable environment for raising the children, while providing gender role models as well as relationship models.” On her website, she also promises: "In Olympia, I will work to repeal the same-sex marriage law recently passed, if not repealed via referendum at the ballot box."

Aware that she and her opponent are diametrically opposed on this issue, Walsh remains confident that votes this November will again be tallied in her favor. When Edwards and Walsh faced off in the August primary, Walsh won by a margin of just over 62 to 38 percent.

As one of only two House Republicans who voted in favor of the marriage bill, Walsh understood that her stance on this issue would create ripple effects, if only within her own party. When the Franklin County party members censured her in 2009 for her support of an earlier gay-rights measure on partner rights, they released an official statement explaining their decision, declaring that although “Representative Walsh has claimed that Republicans favor her agenda of stripping traditional marriage of its meaning and watering down the definition of the words marriage and family… [she] does not represent the values of the Franklin County Republican Party.” In spite of this sentiment, she has routinely been endorsed by other Republican groups in her district.

Yet her speech explaining her vote on this issue was personal rather than partisan, and based on conviction rather than conciliation. It was also a speech that almost didn’t happen: Assuming her vote would be “just a quiet ‘yes,’ ” Walsh decided “to get up, and tell constituents why you’re supporting this bill” only at the last minute, and without preparation of any talking points. Even then, the speech was cut off when the gavel fell after four minutes and Walsh assumed her time was up; in fact, Jim Moeller, speaker pro tempore, was merely trying to quiet the laughter following her comment that the term “domestic partnership” sounds “like some sort of Merry Maids franchise.” Although she could have continued on for six minutes more, Walsh reflects now that she’s glad the speech ended when it did, as she had said all she needed to say.

At times visibly emotional in the video when remembering her husband, Kelly, who died of a massive heart attack six years ago, at other times eliciting startled laughter when she admitted to not missing the sex, or maybe just a little, Walsh explained her position with refreshing, even startling candor. Describing the blessings connected to her 23-year marriage, she asked: “How can I deny anyone the right to have that incredible bond with another individual in life?” Later, she described her relationship with her daughter, Shauna, who came out as a lesbian two years ago. “By God, someday I want to throw a wedding for that kid,” she said.

In response, thousands of emails and letters sent to Walsh over the following weeks conveyed gratitude, love, and support; negative feedback was also received, but in a considerably smaller amount. Some gay adolescents shared with Walsh that they had been considering suicide, but her speech “gave them hope.” To these young people, Walsh wrote back: “Know that your parents love you…they’re just so scared for you.”

Such stories of pain and struggle confirm for Walsh what she had come to feel was the right thing to do. “I’d rather err on the side of love,” she says. Remembering the way legislators dubbed marriage equality “the distraction issue of the session” leading up to the vote, Walsh wondered if this is how Sen. Ed Murray or Rep. Jamie Pedersen (both gay legislators in committed same-sex relationships, the latter a father of four) would have categorized the proposed legislation. She insists that political expediency must be set aside at times so that legislators can vote, as she has, according to conscience. Constituents who may disagree with her on this issue have shown that they nonetheless trust her judgment and appreciate her work in other areas such as early education, job creation and preservation, agriculture, and health care: Sixty-four percent of her district voted against the extension of domestic partnership rights to same-sex couples in 2009, yet overwhelmingly re-elected Walsh a year later.


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Comments:

Posted Wed, Oct 24, 8:22 a.m. Inappropriate

Good for her! It's refreshing to see an elected official leading, and with such common sense and human decency.

Posted Wed, Oct 24, 1:23 p.m. Inappropriate

Lovely piece, thanks Julie Gunter and Crosscut.

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