OLYMPIA — In a state that recently went through a legislative battle over same-sex marriage and faces a potential ballot fight over the issue, President Barack Obama's comments supporting gay marriage drew quick response.
He'll likely hear some of it in person Thursday, when he stops by for a pair of re-election campaign fundraisers.
Gov. Chris Gregoire, who offered similar reasoning late last year for her switch in support of gay marriage, praised Obama for a “courageous and heartfelt act.”
Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, an openly gay legislator and sponsor of the bill that could ultimately allow Washington state to recognize same-sex marriages, thanked Obama for “his courage in taking a strong position in support of equality for all Americans.”
But the National Organization for Marriage, a national group helping to gather signatures to place Washington's same-sex marriage law on the ballot and calling for a boycott of Starbuck's for its support of the legislation, predicted Obama's comments would cost him re-election. Although Obama said he personallly supports gay marriage but believes states should decide the issue, “that is completely disingenuous,” NOM President Brian Brown said.
In an interview with ABC, Obama said he had hoped that civil unions for same-sex couples would be enough, but that hasn't proved true. He also mentioned that his daughters have friends whose parents are same-sex couples and whom they wouldn't expect to be treated differently, and that helped prompt his change in thinking.
Within hours, U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, as chairwoman of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, sent out an e-mail to party supporters, asking them to sign an on-line petition to “stand with President Obama in support of marriage equality.”
That closely parallels Gregoire's comments in December, when she called for the change in state law and said her opinion had also evolved from supporting civil unions to marriage for same-sex couples. At that time, she mentioned the her views had evolved from talking with her daughters, whose generation is much more accepting of same-sex unions, and that children who are being raised by two parents of the same sex deserve to have their families recognized the same way as their classmates in more traditional families.
Gregoire and Obama may have a chance to discuss the issue Thursday. The president will make a campaign stop in Seattle, with a fundraiser at the Paramont Theater in downtown; Gregoire will be there, her office said.
The comments could also cause a ripple into the governor's race, which could share the ballot with a referendum seeking to block the same-sex marriage law that is on the books but currently on hold. The leading Democratic candidate, former U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee, has said he supports the new law. The leading Republican candidate, Attorney General Rob McKenna, has said he supports civil unions but not marriage for same-sex couples, adding his stance on the issue was essentially the same as Obama's. Until today, that description was accurate, but it is now obsolete.
Opponents of same-sex marriage are gathering signatures on Referendum 74, which would give voters the final say on whether the law takes effect. A representative of Preserve Marriage Washington, the main sponsor of the referendum, told the Associated Press Wednesday they had about 70,000 of the more than 120,000 signatures needed to place the measure on the November ballot.