“Seventeen years ago, when the Legislature passed the first Defense of Marriage Act [which defined marriage as being between one man and one woman], I would have told you I wouldn’t be in office when a same-sex marriage bill would be signed by the governor,” says Washington state Senator Edward B. Murray, who has spent the entirety of his 17-year career fighting for marriage equality. “The culture changed, and politics caught up with it,” he says. “More people came out—senior citizens, high school teachers, aunts and uncles, people at church—it brought about a change in the Legislature.”
The right to marry someone of the same sex is currently legal in six states and the District of Columbia. As of the 2010 U.S. Census, there were 19,003 same-sex couples living in Washington. Of these, 7,518 were registered as legal domestic partners. And with Seattle currently ranking second, behind San Francisco, in percentage of the population identified as being gay, this issue is being watched intently throughout our city and state.
Last February, Governor Christine Gregoire signed a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage in Washington. However, on the day before the law was to take effect, opponents submitted enough signatures to require that an expected offspring—Referendum 74—be put to a popular vote in the November election. If voters say “yes” to Referendum 74, the new same-sex marriage law will be upheld, and will mark the first time it has been legalized through popular vote, rather than through the judicial process. Although the outcome of the election is uncertain, Senator Murray is hopeful that the time is right for the bill to pass. “Since Proposition 8 [which repealed California’s same-sex marriage law in 2008], the social climate has moved in our direction,” he says. “Also, Washington is not dominated by large religious organizations, as are the other states where same-sex marriage has been voted down. Washington citizens have a live-and-let-live streak in their history and their culture.”
But if it doesn’t pass, many Seattle-area citizens have vowed to continue to stand up for what they are calling the civil rights issue of our time.
On the eve of this historic election, seven same-sex couples share what the passing of this measure would mean to them. Most of them have very ordinary stories to tell—they met someone, they fell in love, and now they want to have what opposite-sex couples have: the right to be married.