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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.
Still, other constituents have accused Walsh of casting a vote for personal rather than professional reasons, citing her daughter’s orientation as the driving factor. In response to this criticism, Walsh has pointed out that she worked on domestic-partnership legislation before her daughter came out to her as a lesbian, and would “vote on behalf of equal rights anyway.” They have also insisted that Walsh, in her role as an elected official, should represent her constituents’ position on this issue rather than her own. Walsh has become fond of quoting Edmund Burke, a 17th century Irish statesman and orator admired by both conservatives and liberals, who once said: “Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays you, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.”
When people ask Walsh if she would ever consider switching her allegiance to the Democratic Party over this issue, Walsh explains that she remains hopeful that her support of marriage equality will eventually be shared by other Republican legislators. Exploring this idea further, she mused, “Maybe I appreciate the challenge of being a Republican who is compassionate and really believes that the work we are trying to do — empowering individuals to succeed — is the most important role of government.” In the meantime, she is careful to keep donations sent to her from LGBT supporters, estimated by Walsh at approximately $25,000, separate from funds that could be tapped by the Republican National Party and funneled to candidates unsupportive of LGBT rights.
Encouraging others to succeed and be self-sufficient seems to be sound parenting advice too; Shauna Walsh, her mother’s “hero” and “the light of her father’s eyes,” is quick to point out that it was her mother who first taught her to trust in her own capabilities and potential. Describing Walsh as “strong and independent, a wonder-woman,” Shauna explained that she and her two brothers were raised to believe that they could accomplish anything in life. She recalled, “My parents were always together as a unit — my heroes; I consider what they had together to be the epitome of a loving relationship.”
When Kelly died in his son’s arms, Maureen Walsh’s first thought was that he wouldn’t be able to walk his daughter down the aisle. Shauna Walsh feels that loss too, though she said that she continues to feel her father’s presence in her life, and recognizes the many ways his legacy still impacts her family and the community. She added that the tragedy has, ironically, also brought healing: recalling that she grew up rarely seeing her mother on her birthday because it inevitably coincided with a legislative session, their fierce closeness — stretched and deepened since she moved home from Linfield College to be with her family after her father’s death — is a relationship Shauna doesn’t take for granted. She says her mother's support of love and acceptance for countless others, gay and straight, makes all of those missed birthdays worth it.
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