The usually staid conference room outside the mayor's office teemed Friday with city officials overcome with emotion. In light of the Supreme Court's decision to legalize gay marriage across all 50 states, many who usually dress in formal office attired wore brightly colored ties and scarves. The crowded podium, fronted by Seattle's openly gay Mayor Ed Murray, was a reminder that, unlike many American cities, the debate over gay marriage has been largely closed inside Seattle City Hall well before Friday's ruling.
"This journey has been historic," said Murray. "It has been long, it has not been easy and it has often been painful. But we are here today because of the courageous families — gay, lesbian, transgender and straight — who told the stories of their lives and changed hearts and minds of legislators, voters, and ultimately justices of the United States Supreme Court."
As statements from political figures pour in, Murray's feels unique. He led the charge to legalize gay-marriage in the Washington State Legislature, an effort that helped catapult him into the mayor's office. And while he is not the country's first openly gay mayor of a major American city (that honor goes to Sam Adams of Portland), he is a rare example of a prominent leader whose marriage would have been invalid in 13 states before Friday (King County Council Vice Chair Joe McDermott being another).
As if intentionally bridging the gap between the political and the personal, Murray's husband, Michael Shiosaki, stood on Murray's left and Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, also openly gay, stood to his right. Murray and Rasmussen shared stories of when they were younger, hoping simply to find a job and an apartment. "Today feels like a dream," said Rasmussen.
After thanking state Sen. Jamie Pedersen and former Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen for helping him move gay marriage legislation forward, Murray turned to quoting the majority opinion from Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, which has gone viral.
“In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were,“ Kennedy wrote. “As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves.”
As Murray read Kennedy’s remarks, he choked up, along with many others in the room.
Underlining the degree of acceptance for marriage equality at City Hall was the show of support across city departments. Representatives from Parks and Recreation, Transportation, the Information Technology and other departments stood in front of the Seal of Seattle. Also present were Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole and Fire Chief Harold Scoggins.
Although the ruling will have significant impact for national programs like social security, changes in Washington State will be subtle as same-sex marriage has been legal here since 2013. Murray, who spoke on Capitol Hill the night Washington’s referendum was upheld by voters two years ago, this morning echoed his own statements from that victory: "Welcome to the other side of the rainbow."