OLYMPIA – A day after announcing support for same-sex marriage, President Barack Obama today visits a state that recently went through a legislative battle over the issue and faces a ballot fight over it.
When he arrives in Seattle for a pair of re-election campaign fundraisers, he’ll share the stage with at least one politician who shifted her stance to support gay marriage late last year, Gov. Chris Gregoire.
She called Obama’s decision a “courageous and heartfelt act.” Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, an openly gay legislator and sponsor of the bill that would 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.”
The National Organization for Marriage, a group helping to gather signatures to place Washington’s same-sex marriage law on the ballot and calling for a boycott of Starbucks for that company’s support of the legislation, predicted Obama’s comments would cost him re-election.
Although Obama said he personally supports gay marriage but believes states should decide the issue, “that is completely disingenuous,” said the group’s president, Brian Brown.
In an interview with ABC, Obama said he had hoped civil unions for same-sex couples would be “sufficient,” 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 change his thinking.
That closely parallels Gregoire’s comments in December, when she called for the change in state law and said her opinion changed from supporting civil unions to marriage for same-sex couples. At that time, she mentioned her views had evolved from talking with her daughters, whose generation she said is much more accepting of same-sex unions. She said 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 compare notes this afternoon, when he stops at Seattle’s Paramount Theater. The governor will be there, her office said.
Obama’s changed stance could ripple through the governor’s race, which likely will share the ballot with a referendum seeking to block the state’s same-sex marriage law. The leading Democratic candidate, former U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee, 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, a distinction that had helped dampen criticism from potential opponents. Now, however, that talking point is 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.
Meanwhile, the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee quickly created a petition for the other side. Within hours of the interview, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the chairwoman of the group, blasted out an email to party supporters, asking them to sign an online petition to “stand with President Obama in support of marriage equality.”