Lewiston Tribune: Marriage equality takes a final, logical step

http://lmtribune.com/opinion/article_bb0beb72-76ae-5d54-9725-0a54c1a4e7b3.html (paid subscription required, full text of editorial below)

Earlier this year, Gov. Chris Gregoire and the Legislature transformed Washington into the seventh state to sanction marriage equality. But it was only one step among many.

In 2006, Washington added sexual orientation to its anti-discrimination statute - protecting the rights of gays and lesbians to employment, housing and public accommodations. An attempt to repeal it at the polls fizzled out when opponents failed to round up enough petition signatures.

Next came a steady, incremental drive toward safeguarding the standing of gay couples. In 2007, lawmakers created the domestic partnership registration. By 2009, the state had expanded that measure to virtually every feature of state law that applied to marriage. “Everything but marriage” triggered a referendum challenge. But in November 2009, 53 percent of Washington voters retained the standard, the first time voters in any state had upheld family recognition for gay and lesbian couples.

Now Washington’s marriage equality act is on hold, pending the outcome of the Referendum 74 vote forced by opponents of same-sex marriage.

A yes vote puts the law back on the books.

Given what’s already in code, the question isn’t so much why extend the law into the nuance of marriage.

Rather, ask: Why not?

Already employers, landlords and businesses are bound by law to respect individuals regardless of sexual orientation. Should a caterer or a photographer, for instance, refuse to serve a gay couple, he’s subject to an anti-discrimination lawsuit now.

With or without marriage equality, that’s the law. Predicting marriage equality would lead to more litigation is a reach. It’s also wrong on the facts. In the seven years it’s been illegal to discriminate against gays and lesbians in Washington, no such lawsuit has been filed.

Meanwhile, the everything but marriage law spells out the rights of one spouse to care for another and their parenting prerogatives. Thousands of children are being raised in stable, same-sex households. Pass or fail, R-74 changes nothing.

Nor will R-74 have much bearing on the state’s churches. Freedom of religion is enshrined within the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as well as the Washington charter. For good measure, Washington’s marriage equality statute makes it clear: No church can be compelled to perform a same-sex marriage ceremony. No religious affiliation can be sued for refusing to participate.

But marriage means more than a bundle of contractual rights and privileges. Ask yourself: Would you rather have a domestic partnership or a marriage? The latter confirms inclusion within the community, the former implies second-class citizenship.

When a spouse is ailing, nobody at a hospital asks for a copy of a marriage license as they might with a domestic partnership registration card.

Plus domestic partnerships do not convey all of the benefits married couples enjoy in such areas as survivor’s benefits and tax deductions. Some of these gaps could be addressed by state law. The bulk must wait for repeal of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, however.

If you doubt that day is coming, you’ve missed the rising tide of tolerance, especially among younger people who see sexual orientation as a characteristic, not a flaw.

You’ve neglected to watch the smooth transition to gay acceptance within the U.S. military with the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

And you’ve lost track of a rising number of court cases that could prompt the U.S. Supreme Court to shelve the nation’s patchwork of marriage equality laws and same-sex marriage bans in favor of a national conciliation.

If the courts are looking to Washington for a signal to proceed, let that be the legacy of R-74.