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Opinion >  Editorial

Editorial: Washington a beacon for marriage equality

This year, Washington joined Maine and Maryland as the only states to ask their voters for approval of same-sex marriage. The answer was, “We do.”

Opponents of Referendum 74 conceded defeat on Thursday as the voting margin grew. And so, on Dec. 6, couples can head to the Spokane County Auditor’s Office to apply for a marriage license. Once granted, they can get married.

Not gay-married. Not same-sex married. Simply married.

This victory caps an implausible journey that began in the 1970s, when the first bid for a civil rights bill for gay and lesbian citizens was launched in the Legislature. In 2006, on the 29th try, lawmakers passed a bill that outlawed discrimination based on sexual orientation in the areas of employment, housing, finance and public accommodations. Three years later, voters expanded those rights to include everything but marriage. Tuesday, that final barrier fell.

At each step, whether it was granting equal workplace benefits or more government protections, opponents argued that incremental changes would lead to gay marriage. They knew if gay and lesbian people gained footholds and dire consequences didn’t materialize, intolerance would crack and acceptance would grow.

And they were right.

Fifteen years after voting for the federal Defense of Marriage Act, U.S. Sen. Patty Murray announced last year that it should be repealed. In 2010, Congress repealed the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that barred openly gay people from serving in the military. In May, Barack Obama became the first president to support gay marriage. Gov. Chris Gregoire came to the end of her personal journey on this issue and signed gay marriage legislation last spring.

A crucial factor behind those developments was that more people became openly gay, which increased acceptance in families, workplaces, media and social institutions. Familiarity undercut demonization.

So now it is opponents who need to adapt. The Republican Party is conducting some soul-searching after watching a Democratic president win re-election thanks to a diverse coalition of voters, including gay and lesbian Americans. As Matthew Dowd, a former Republican strategist, said on election night, the GOP is a “ ‘Mad Men’ party in a ‘Modern Family’ America,” referring to one television show set in the 1960s and another featuring a gay couple raising a child today.

Half of Americans back gay marriage, according to a Gallup Poll taken this year. In 1996, only 27 percent did. The greatest support is among young people, so acceptance will only grow.

Washingtonians should be proud of its pioneering status on this human rights issue. Margarethe Cammermeyer was discharged from the Washington National Guard after disclosing she was a lesbian, but she won a landmark court case in 1994 that signaled the beginning of the end of the military’s policy of discrimination. A case brought by Maj. Margaret Witt, an Air Force nurse from Spokane, helped knock down the barrier for good.

And this week, Washington voters once again put the state at the forefront of equality and justice by granting gay and lesbian couples the right to marry. Just like everyone else.

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