OLYMPIA – Republican leaders in the Legislature have been uniformly critical of the same-sex marriage bills as the proposals worked their way through the two chambers on what can only be described as the fast track.
An issue like this generates lots of buzz, both for and against, captures attention inside and outside the state, and – in a phrase that risks becoming overused – “sucks up all the oxygen.”
In floor debates, few opponents of the bill who objected to the change for religious reasons failed to mention that the Legislature should be doing the important work of fixing the budget rather than tinkering with a social construct that went back at least to time immemorial . . .
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…In a year when the state’s general fund budget might be likened to the Costa Concordia, if not the Titanic, that criticism might have some currency. As someone who has remarked only half in jest the Legislature can’t walk and chew gum at the same time, I am loathe to quibble much.
Except that members of both parties have been able to get hearings on all manner of less-than-crucial topics, from novel if unlikely taxing schemes to designating a state rock. And they’ve pushed through the sausage grinder other second-tier, but important-to-someone bills, like finding a way for charitable groups to distribute eyeglasses to the poor and tightening up campaign disclosure rules on groups that want to spend millions telling you how to vote on initiatives.
The House and Senate budget committees also have been doing the long slog through long lists of bills that have been introduced by both parties that have something to do with the budget, and must be settled yea or nay to determine whether certain things should be added in or subtracted out that budget.
No budget was going to be final before next Thursday, anyway. That’s when the state Economic Forecast Council delivers its “best guess” for the state of the state’s finances through the rest of this biennium. The current forecast is never exactly the same as the previous one, and with the budget having more holes than Blackburn, Lancashire, to quote a favorite Beatles’ song, a few million dollars more or less is real money.
Here’s the real benefit of the controversial proposals, whether you are for or against: No one can argue that floor debate on the same-sex marriage bill wasn’t some of the best in years. Although at times both sides were guilty of cherry-picking their Bible verses to fit their point, no one questioned openly anyone else’s integrity or motives. (Don't count on such civility if the measure goes on the November ballot.)
While legislating by anecdote is often dangerous, some personal stories woven into the debates were first-rate, from Rep. Matt Shea’s discussion of his wife’s family’s struggles in Ukraine to Rep. Eric Pettigrew’s retelling of his grandfather’s account of a friend who was dragged to death in the South, an African American teen who had the temerity to give a small gift to a white girl.
But the best, by far, was Rep. Maureen Walsh’s explanation of why she was voting yes. Combining self-deprecating humor with personal anguish, the Walla Walla Republican started out with her status as a widow, after her husband of 23 years died six years ago: “I’m 51 years old, looking for a boyfriend, not having much luck with that. (Sigh) And yet, when I think of my husband…you know, I don’t miss the sex, and that’s kind of what this boils down to. I don’t miss that. Well I certainly miss it…but it’s not the part of that relationship…that I wish I still had. I think to myself, how could I deny anyone the right to have that incredible bond with another individual in life…”
Walsh explained that her daughter is a lesbian who came out of closet a few years ago, and has met a wonderful woman. And some day, by God, I want to throw a fabulous wedding for that kid. And I hope that’s exactly what I can do. I hope she will not feel like a second class citizen, involved in something called a domestic partnership, which frankly sounds like a Merry Maids franchise to me.”
A short version of Walsh’s speech showed up on several network news shows, and a clip of the full speech on YouTube had more than 700,000 hits by week’s end. You can see the clip at the online version of this column.