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Spin Control: One year later, marriage is still an institution

As of Friday, same-sex marriage has been legal in Washington for a year. So the obvious question is: How much worse off is your marriage now that men can marry men and women can marry women?

Couples who tied the knot in the last 365 days can take a pass on this, considering you’re technically still on your honeymoon – unless you’re like a Kardashian, in which case you’re already dividing up community property. For the rest of you, though, how has your marriage survived after the institution itself was rocked to its very core?

My guess is that for most couples, if you paid attention to your spouse’s needs before last Dec. 6, offered a helping hand and a sympathetic ear, an occasional surprise when it was least expected or a long foot rub after a stressful day while accepting their little quirks as they accept yours, you’re still doing it even though a couple guys down the street got to say “I do.”

And if you sometimes took your spouse for granted, nagged too much, listened too little, argued about money or the kids or the division of labor, that didn’t get any better because voters decided the words to the wedding march can sometimes be changed to “Here Come the Brides.”

Some of you may be cheating on your spouse with a co-worker, a neighbor, a friend or someone you met in a bar, a coffee shop or the produce section of Safeway. When your spouse finds out, are you going to explain it with “I never thought of being unfaithful to you dear, but then Referendum 74 passed and, well, you know, things just went south”?

Good luck with that in divorce court.

The destruction of marriage as we know it was, after all, one of the main arguments against same-sex marriage as the law was argued in the Legislature and before voters. Many opponents didn’t have anything against gays personally, mind you. They were protecting the institution of marriage, which for some period of time – 2,000 years, 4,000 years or the dawn of Western civilization, depending on who was arguing – was between one man and one woman.

Well, OK, sometimes it was between one man and many women (see various references to David, Solomon and others in the Old Testament). But those Bible stories could be seen as cautionary tales that messing around ends badly.

There were worries that churches with doctrinal objections to same-sex marriage would be forced to perform them and that people religiously opposed to such unions would be forced to supply tuxedos, gowns, cakes, flowers, dinners or drinks despite their faith-based objections.

The former hasn’t happened, and the law is pretty clearly written to make sure it won’t. The latter might. There’s a well-publicized case in the Tri-Cities in which a florist refused to provide flowers for a gay couple’s wedding. Barronelle Stutzman of Arlene’s Flowers faces a consumer protection lawsuit from the state attorney general’s office and has countersued. She’s got a supportive Facebook page and backing from the Family Research Council. The cases are pending; so far there’s no litigious tidal wave.

Outside of the Stutzman case, the biggest impact of Referendum 74 might be for people who check the public records section of The Spokesman-Review, where Spokane County marriage licenses are listed. Some days the majority might be issued to same-sex couples, other days not. The problem for a casual peruser of the lists is that before last Dec. 6, it was easy to tell whether that unusual name some baby boomer hung on a child belonged to a man or a woman. You could just look at the spouse-to-be’s name. No longer possible.

These thoughts on the state of marriage, one year in from Referendum 74, are prompted by two things.

One is practical. On Thursday, the state released statistics that showed 17 percent of all marriages in Washington performed between Dec. 6 and the end of September were for same-sex couples. That’s about 7,000 of the 42,408 marriages in that period. Considering that 42,408 marriages are more than the number recorded in any of the last five years, marriage as an institution may be doing OK so far.

The other is personal. My son, Jeremy, gets married on Tuesday. He proposed to his wife-to-be Dana before Referendum 74 passed, but they made all their plans and arrangements with this sword of Damocles hanging over marriage’s head and seem to be doing just fine. Truth be told, neither of them is terribly political, so I doubt that it even crossed their minds.

But it crossed mine as I went back over some of the campaign rhetoric from 2012. I’m glad that the opponents of the law appear to be wrong. I’m pulling for marriage, for Jeremy and Dana, and for everyone else tying the knot in this post-Referendum 74 world.

Spin Control, a weekly column by political reporter Jim Camden, also appears online at www.spokesman.com/spincontrol.

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