Hundreds of people crammed into Seattle Montlake Community Center yesterday to watch the governor sign legislation granting same-sex domestic partners many of the rights of spouses.
The place was crammed with kids. There were strollers, scampering toddlers and a class of fidgeting preschoolers in matching red shirts. Their parents, by and large, were gay and lesbian couples.
Now, the surest way to make a political reporter's eyes roll is to say that you're doing something "for the kids." But in the case of Referendum 71, both sides clearly feel that that's the case.
Same-sex couples want spouse-style legal protections for their partners and children. With equal passion, foes of the changes say that children do best when raised by a mother and father. Citing religious beliefs, they say they don't want their children to grow up thinking that being gay or lesbian is acceptable.
Same-sex couples argue that time is their ally, and that the arc of history is bending toward gay and lesbian marriage. Standing in front of a friendly crowd Monday, state Sen. Ed Murray looked into the news cameras and addressed a different audience.
"For those opposed, come meet us and our families," he said. "We share with you a common love for this state, for this nation, and for their future...Let's meet, let's talk. No conditions."
Some proponents of same-sex marriage argue, in fact, that the public dialogue spawned by the referendum attempt may help their cause. It gives them a chance, they say, to show themselves as loving, committed couples who want the legal protections of marriage for their children and each other.
"This is a unique opportunity to educate the public," said Josh Friedes, spokesman for Equal Rights Washington. "I think the opponents of gay civil rights may be making a significant error."