Thursday, January 26, 2012

Gay marriage is coming to Washington State

It looks as if Washington State is going to win marriage equality by legislative enactment. They've counted the votes and the governor says she'll sign the bill. Of course there are naysayers:

"It's not done. In fact, it's just started," said Joseph Backholm, executive director of the Family Policy Institute of Washington, vowing that legalization of same-sex marriage would end in a referendum challenge.

LGBT people haven't done so well at winning these kind of state ballot measures; in both Maine and California, marriage victories were overturned by voters. But I wouldn't be surprised if Washington voters turn back marriage opponents in a November vote; among other strengths, they can count major state businesses like Starbucks and Microsoft in the pro-marriage equality camp. And the northwest has an honorable history of winning electoral fights over gay rights

A Washington vote to uphold a gay marriage law would repeat one of the great early successes of the LGBT rights movement. Thanks to the movie Milk, there's some historical memory of the 1978 defeat of a California initiative that would have fired out lesbian and gay teachers and silenced their supporters. But the same year, Seattle voters rejected an attempt to repeal their local ordinance that protected lesbians and gays against employment and housing discrimination. History Link tells the story.

On November 7, 1978, Seattle voters rejected Initiative 13 decisively, by nearly two to one. Initiative 13 would have repealed city ordinances protecting employment and housing rights for gays and lesbians. Also, it would have dissolved the City of Seattle's Office of Women's Rights.

The initiative was sponsored by Save Our Moral Ethics (SOME) and by Seattle Police Officers Dennis Falk and David Estes. Opposition was led by the Committee to Retain Fair Employment (CRFE) chaired by Charles Brydon and directed by Jill Shropp. Other groups opposed the measure as well.
Seattle was one of the first large American cities to enact specific civil rights protections prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Employment rights of sexual minorities were affirmed in 1973, and the City broadened its housing laws in 1975. [The reforms] ... generated little controversy at the time of their adoption.

…CRFE was organized as a broad coalition of civil rights groups, religious moderates, and political liberals. Initiative 13 was also vocally opposed by more radical gay and lesbian groups, but CRFE raised the largest war chest and was able to broadcast radio and television messages. Its campaign focused on the theme "Your Privacy is at Stake," arguing that Initiative 13 exposed all citizens, straight and otherwise, to intrusive background checks by employers and landlords.

Early, unofficial vote counts showed Initiative 13 defeated, with a vote of 59,797 (37 percent) in favor to 101,809 (63 percent) opposed. Also on November 8, 1978, California voters rejected the "Briggs Initiative," which sought to curtail the civil rights of gays and lesbians in that state. …

Good friends of mine lived through the campaign adhering to "more radical" opposing positions; in fact two poured donated blood on the office of proponents and served local jail time for this act of uncivil though nonviolent disobedience.

As a political campaigner, I'm interested in lessons collected in oral histories of the victory. The Seattle Committee Against Thirteen and Women against Thirteen (SCAT/WAT) was a "more radical" group that wanted to talk about a lot more than generic privacy rights. Jan Denali explained

What I was mostly involved with was the canvassing project, which was a joint project of SCAT/WAT. ... That was the door-to-door stuff. We were big on education. ... We prioritized the city by precinct, you know, going for the swing precincts: who do you have a prayer of convincing? And running amazing orientation sessions to go out and canvass the city on the issue and being very educational about it. So that was what I did. ...

To be addressing the issue straightforward ... to be able to stand there in front of somebody and have a conversation ... and we had all this stuff about de-briefing and teamwork because you’d get icky stuff too and how to deflect that, and it was all just so completely empowering.

In the struggle for full gay rights, there simply is no doubt that repeated exposure to the humanity of ordinary gay people -- those face to face meetings that may begin in ignorance and prejudice but lead to mutual tolerance -- are what has turned the tide in our favor. We are everywhere and the end of the world (or of the family or heterosexual marriage or whatever) hasn't come. That approach worked on a citywide basis (alongside a more conventional electoral effort) as far back as 1978. It obviously works better in smaller settings and when the heat behind the issue hasn't been driven up too high by demagoguery. It probably takes a mix of campaign styles to win, but I have little doubt that victories that push back bigotry that are won with a strong component of public education are durable, in fact likely to be permanent. That 1978 campaign, super-heated and fraught as it was, laid the groundwork for marriage equality in Washington State this year.
"No on 13" from Out History.

1 comment:

Ronni Gilboa said...

Marriage Equality law will probably pass and the anti-folks are already chomping at the bit to start the anti-pro hate referrendum effort to kill it. So pass the bubbly and person the barricades! Its going to be a long and continuing fight that seems never ending. Ronni, whose been fighting since 1970

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