Opinion

Taking a big step closer to equality

Our state Legislature is poised to pass a historic bill that has the support of our governor and will make Washington the seventh state to recognize marriage equality for same-sex couples. I was overjoyed when I learned that the state Senate had enough votes to pass the marriage equality bill and uncharacteristically filled my Facebook status that afternoon with many exclamation points.

Long before having children, my wife and I got married in 2000. Although we used a minister who is authorized to marry couples within the state, we knew that our federal and state governments would not recognize our marriage. But just as it is important for opposite-sex couples, it was important to us to exchange our vows before our family and friends and to celebrate our union with them.

Giving a toast during the reception, my father noted that while it was not the wedding he had envisioned for his little girl, he was grateful that I had found someone who loves me and makes me happy, and he welcomed Heather into the family. I knew his feelings were genuine, as he treated her like anyone else marrying into the family would be treated by subjecting her to a silly family tradition about having an upper hand. I know it wasn’t easy for my Catholic father, but he was the one who taught me about history and my rights as an American to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

We renewed our vows and were legally married in Victoria, British Columbia, in 2003. We enjoy traveling to British Columbia, and I have always felt a sad disconnect knowing that my family had more protections while on vacation in Canada than while at home or traveling in our own country. While we won’t have full equality until the federal government and all states honor our marriage, there is a significant sense of relief that my family will be better protected here in our home state.

Now that we have children, having the state recognize our marriage has added significance. We are fortunate that through adoption we are both the legal parents of our children. But the protective mother instinct comes out in me, and I want more for my children. They deserve for their family to have the same kinds of protections as children of opposite-sex couples.

Governmental recognition of a marriage provides a measure of stability and protection for those times when marriage or parenting can be hard. There is no rational, unbiased reason as to why my children, whose parents are married, should be denied the stability and protections that come with the government’s recognition of their parents’ marriage.

I have heard the arguments against marriage equality, and they are similar to those that were made against mixed-race marriages four decades ago. Those who claim that marriage equality will harm opposite-sex marriages have much bigger problems if recognition of my marriage somehow negatively impacts theirs.

Marriage licenses are not denied to opposite-sex couples that can’t or don’t have children. Churches may continue to choose which marriages they will recognize and perform, just as many currently recognize and perform same-sex marriages. Marriage equality doesn’t undermine the First Amendment. It simply takes the state out of the business of discriminating against same-sex couples.

It is disappointing that marriage equality remains dependent upon the whims and bias of the majority due to the almost certain voter referendum. I recall the deep despair I felt in 2006 after reading the opinion of our State Supreme Court turning its back on equality.

I clerked at the Court after law school and personally knew most of the justices who voted against marriage equality. Not only did they prolong the injustice for same-sex couples, but they made it easier and more likely for other courts to allow the tyranny of the majority to prevail against the rights of the minority.

Yet, today I am optimistic that a majority of my fellow citizens now value fairness and protecting all families, and therefore will cast their votes in favor of marriage equality. I have always believed that one day Washington, and eventually the federal government, will recognize our marriage because, to paraphrase a great leader, I believe the arc of history bends toward justice.

I am extremely grateful for all the effort put forth by so many people to make marriage equality a reality here in Washington and across the U.S. Their work has laid the groundwork for this historic moment.

I look forward to renewing our vows again, this time on this island we call home with the knowledge that our state will recognize our marriage and afford my spouse and children protections they deserve.

 

— Barb Rhoads-Weaver, an attorney with a private practice on Vashon, lives on the Island with her wife and their two children.

 

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