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Editorial: Gay rights won by following steady, strategic path

Rep. Maureen Walsh of Walla Walla was one of two Republicans in the House who voted to pass the gay marriage bill. Her four minutes on the House floor is garnering national attention, and for good reason. It is funny, poignant and filled with hope. Walsh lost her husband six years ago. She hasn’t found a new companion, but she certainly understands that universal desire.

Walsh claims not to be eloquent, but she is wrong. She is, however, right about gay marriage and what the passage of this bill means. Please do yourself a favor and watch the YouTube video of her speech. Mere words can’t do it justice, because they don’t capture the emotion and dignity of the moment. However, we cannot top her concluding remarks. So here they are:

“My daughter came out of the closet a couple of years ago. And you know what? I thought I was going to agonize about that. Nothing’s different. She’s still a fabulous human being, and she’s met a person who she loves very much. Someday, by God, I want to throw a 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.”

The long road to Wednesday’s gay marriage victory was pockmarked with doubt and debate. Six years ago, some advocates wanted an immediate vote, with no incremental steps in between. Half a loaf leaves you crumbs, they claimed.

Fortunately, advocates took a steady, strategic path, which gave them time to educate people on the effects of discrimination. It’s remarkable how effective this campaign has been.

When the federal Defense of Marriage Act passed in 1996, three-fourths of Americans were against gay marriage. President Barack Obama still claims to be against it, preferring civil unions. But his Justice Department is no longer defending DOMA, and he ended the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

Six states have preceded Washington in passing a gay marriage bill. The opposition to gay marriage across the country has plunged to about 50 percent, and as current seniors and the baby boom generation passes, resistance will steadily wane.

So what happened? First, more people became openly gay, which helped shatter stereotypes. Maureen Walsh already loved her daughter. That didn’t change when she learned her sexual orientation. Second, the gay marriage movement did an expert job of pointing out the benefits affixed to a marriage license. Discrimination extended to health benefits, housing, hospital visits and myriad other areas.

That simply wasn’t fair. Businesses began offering same-sex benefits, and Washington voters supported the Legislature’s “everything but marriage” law. After that, it was easy to see that marriage is something that should be extended in equitable fashion.

Gay marriage will be common someday. In the meantime, it will be adopted state by state. In Washington, it will probably face opposition in the form of a ballot referendum.

We don’t envy the challenge facing opponents. Washingtonians have already proven they embrace equal rights, fair play and the simple humanity of a loving parent.

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