Opinion

The politics of yard signs and marriage equality | Editorial

Barb and Heather Rhoads-Weaver installed their fourth yard sign in support of Referendum 74 Monday evening.

Their three previous signs endorsing the measure — a referendum affirming the Legislature’s historic decision to legalize same-sex marriage — disappeared. So did several other yes-on-Ref.-74 yard signs between the Rhoads-Weavers’ north-end home and Vashon town, the couple said Monday evening.

A similar fate befell posters advertising “Shelter the Flame,” an interfaith gathering in support of marriage equality that took place last weekend. Organizers for the event had to replace some of their posters three times.

When the Rhoads-Weavers lost their first sign, they felt alarmed, worried they were being targeted. The couple has two young children. “We felt unsafe,” Heather said.

Now, the couple said, they realize the acts are not about them as individuals. Some of their straight friends have had pro-Ref. 74 signs disappear.

But it has been a sobering wake-up call about the depth of homophobia in a place that has felt open and supportive to them. Barb, a lawyer, said she took comfort in early polling that showed Ref. 74 ahead and by her experiences on Vashon. “Equality will prevail,” she told herself.

“Now, I don’t feel that way,” she said Monday night.

It’s possible only one or two people are responsible for these acts. But as the Rhoads-Weavers point out, what’s happening on Vashon is a reminder that this fundamental individual right — the freedom to marry the person of one’s choice — is still not a given in Washington state.

The measure, at one point easily ahead in the polls, now leads by a mere 4 points, essentially a tie when the margin of error is factored in, according to the most recent statewide poll. In California, aggressive, last-minute campaigning led to the defeat of Prop. 8, now under challenge in the federal courts, as well as a similar measure in Maine.

The Rhoads-Weavers have gone through a range of emotions as they’ve watched the campaign play out in Washington and experienced yard-sign theft on Vashon. Fear was replaced by anger. Now, they said, their disappearing yard signs have become a reminder that they can’t grow complacent, that they need to use these incidents to remind people what’s at stake.

Facebook postings have started appearing about the yard signs. Straight friends who have never felt marginalized are expressing outrage. “By stealing our yard signs, they’re raising awareness,” Barb said.

They plan to make a police report. “It’s a trespass, a theft, a possible hate crime,” she said.

It’s also an indication of why Ref. 74 needs to pass. The measure is a powerful affirmation of human rights, an important step in dismantling one of the last legal bastions of discrimination in this country. But as this couple’s experience on Vashon underscores, the fight is far from over.

 

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