Divorce for gay rights

Island Girl: A new resident of Washington finds the prospect of Referendum 71's defeat so abhorrent that she's considering a logical pro-marriage response: splitting up.
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A campaign sign at a Seattle rally in support of Referendum 71.

Island Girl: A new resident of Washington finds the prospect of Referendum 71's defeat so abhorrent that she's considering a logical pro-marriage response: splitting up.

My husband and I are considering divorcing. And no 'ꀔ for those of you who read my recent "Rocky Landing" series — it'ꀙs not what you think.

We have talked, seriously, about divorcing in the state of Washington, or Minnesota (our native state and the one in which we own a home we cannot sell), then remarrying immediately in Iowa, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, or — depending upon what happens next week — Maine. Why? Because it is simply loathsome to us to have our union approved by a state that does not recognize the fundamental right of every adult, no matter whom they love, to marry. The states I listed are the only ones that permit gay marriage. And a popular vote on Tuesday could overturn the last.

We have our own popular vote coming up here in Washington on what some are calling the 'ꀜeverything-but-marriage'ꀝ bill. Referendum 71 would give same-sex domestic partnerships (and senior citizens who choose for financial reasons to commit but not to marry) all the myriad rights and responsibilities of a legal Washington marriage. It would not extend to the nation. In other words, domestic partnerships would be recognized only within the confines of the state.

This law actually was passed by the Legislature — in a less expansive form, granting only 17 rights — back in 2007. It was augmented to include responsibilities in 2008. Then it was challenged by the offensively named group Protect Marriage Washington (do you see now why I am moved to divorce?) and they collected enough signatures to force it on the ballot this year.

Maybe you know all this. Maybe it'ꀙs old news and you'ꀙre completely untroubled. But I, who am proud to hail from among other Midwestern states the startlingly enlightened Iowa, am shocked. (I once phoned my friends David and Grant, who live in San Francisco, to suggest they move to Council Bluffs. They were not amused.)

Personally, I find it troubling that the law will not call a same-sex union 'ꀜmarriage.'ꀝ But I'ꀙve been admonished by Adam Bass, spokesman for the Approve 71 campaign and a profoundly temperate man, to stay focused. He'ꀙs right, of course. The issue at hand is whether Referendum 71 passes; if we are to turn this into a conversation about gay marriage all progress could, potentially, be lost. So this is me, shutting up about gay marriage and how it should be a basic civil right and moving on. . . .

Here'ꀙs what I know about a good 'ꀜdomestic partnership.'ꀝ Doesn'ꀙt matter if it'ꀙs between a man and a woman or a man and a man or a woman and a woman, it is a solid brick in the structure of our society. Married people live longer, no matter which gender they prefer. When ill, they are likely to receive care from their partner (making them a better insurance risk). Happily married people tend to be more financially, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually well. They drink less and take fewer stupid risks.

That'ꀙs why companies including Microsoft, Starbucks, and Google have come out in support of Referendum 71. A portion of the statement of support released by Google read: 'ꀜWe see this debate as one that comes down to equality, plain and simple. If we believe in equal protection under the law we must, in our view, support a man or woman's right to enjoy the legal benefits of domestic partnerships — no matter who they love.'ꀝ

The passage of Referendum 71 would ensure, for instance, that the gay spouse of a firefighter would receive his benefits if he were to die in the line of duty; and that a worker would have the state-protected right to unpaid leave when her same-sex partner was ill or dying. We'ꀙre talking about the most mundane and elemental human events.

Truly, I am perplexed. This is a good for everyone. It'ꀙs love and commitment. It'ꀙs Bambi'ꀙs forest in springtime. There is absolutely no reason for any thinking person not to be on board.

So we'ꀙve reached the point — as we inevitably must, it seems — where I make an embarrassing revelation: I did not register to vote.

You see, I come from a state where registration can be accomplished on site, at the polls, on Election Day. I assumed the same held true in Washington and had planned to show up at my polling place on Tuesday with Federal ID and a piece of identifying U.S. mail in hand. But it turns out the laws are different here in Middle Earth: You must, apparently, register eight days in advance in order to enjoy the privilege of the vote.

So no matter how deeply I feel about the matter I will not be permitted to cast my yes vote for Referendum 71 (mea culpa). But there'ꀙs a potential solution to this problem: I am asking for every person who feels as I do but did not intend to vote in this off-year election to dig that ballot out of the mail pile before Tuesday and hurriedly check the box that says yes. I'ꀙll owe you. I promise. And if it takes me the rest of my life, I will pay you back.

Also, if any of you out there would like to join John and me in our divorce protest, just say the word. I'ꀙm thinking we could have a mass dissolution ceremony in Olympia, then a huge remarriage fest in Des Moines. Take it from me, Iowa is beautiful this time of year.


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