Gay Marriage becomes law in Washington State
A decade long battle for marriage equality in Washington State finally ended February 13. With a great deal of bipartisan cooperation, and even a little encouragement from some of UWT's own Social Work students who sent her a collection of student signatures that pledged support for the bill, Governor Chris Gregoire signed the historic bill into law.
The Civil Marriage Bill prohibits discrimination in marriage based on gender and sexual orientation, giving all couples in this state the right to marry, while protecting the rights of religious entities as well. So what does this new law really change? Back in 2009, the domestic partnership bill was extended in order to provide gay couples with "everything but marriage." This made domestic partnership in this state equal with marriage as far as rights, however obtaining a marriage license was still illegal for same sex couples.
Representative Laurie Jinkins, the only open lesbian in the state legislature said, during an interview, that this right to claim marriage is the biggest practical change brought about by the bill.
"Everyone in the world knows what it means when you say you're married," she explained.
Few people however, understand the meaning or legal implications of the term "domestic partnership," which leads to frequent complications.
She told the story of a couple who had testified about their experience: when one partner was hospitalized it took the other far too long to gain access to her because the hospital was not aware that it had to recognize their legal partnership. Being with a partner who has battled cancer, the ability to easily make healthcare decisions for a partner is hugely important for Jinkins.
While the legalizing of gay marriage in Washington State is a huge step for gay rights, there is still a lot of work to be done. Same-sex marriage is still not recognized federally, and federal programs such as Social Security will not recognize same-sex couples who are married in the state, nor can they file taxes as married.
Although Washington voters poll 55% in support of gay marriage, the Family Policy Institute of Washington has filed a referendum that may put the decision on the ballot this November. In the name of protecting the sanctity of family, this organization is working to collect 120,000 valid signatures by June 6 so that the bill can be overturned by vote.
If the group is unable to get all 120,000 signatures, the law will take effect on June 7, unless Stephen Pidgeon succeeds in his efforts to get Initiative 1192 on the ballot as well; this initiative will define marriage as between a man and a woman.
Jinkins believes that the most important part of this fight for equality is simply that gay and lesbian couples come forward and tell their stories, especially to family and friends. Educating the legislature and senate was a big part of passing the bill, and educating the citizens will be crucial if it comes down to a vote.
Our campus Diversity Resource Center is working hard to develop a student body well informed as to the LGBTQI community. With Pride month coming up in April there are plans for further panels to continue the dialogue on LGBTQI issues.
Jo Ensco, Associate Director for Diversity, explained that it's about, "Making sure that when we host these dialogues that we are providing opportunity for multiple perspectives."
The center also focuses on providing a safe place where through books, videos, mirror screened computers, or "safe space" trained staff, your questions about the LGTBQI community can be answered. If the referendum or initiative is put on the ballot, a panel will be held to inform our voting student body as to what a yes or no on these issues will mean. The most important thing is that everyone goes to the polls well-informed.
Despite the decade-long back and forth battle on marriage equality, and the still to be determined future of gay marriage, Jinkins believes that the dialogue has been good for our state, by placing focus on what marriage really means.
To Jinkins, marriage means a public commitment, her and her partner showing everyone what they mean to each other. The couple has been together for 23 years, and they have an 11-year-old son who is also looking forward to their wedding. Barring any complications brought on by the referendum or initiative, she and her partner hope to marry soon. Though they haven't yet made a decision on what to wear, their son has decided on a wedding cake with green icing.
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