The Olympian: A vote for R-74 is a vote for marriage equality and basic rights

Washington state has been a leader in marriage equality since repealing its anti-miscegenation law prohibiting interracial marriages 144 years ago. This fall, voters have the opportunity to put our state at the forefront again by approving Referendum 74.

A “yes” vote on R-74 gives approval to the Legislature’s bipartisan passage of Senate Bill 6239 earlier this year, which gave same-sex couples the right to marry. The vote is necessary because opponents gathered enough signatures to put the measure on the fall ballot.

While six other states – Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont – and the District of Columbia already allow same-sex marriage, Washington would be one of the first to affirm it by popular vote.

All same-sex marriage rights so far have been legislated or granted through court rulings. Maine and Maryland are putting measures similar to R-74 on their Nov. 6 ballots.

Washingtonians recognized back in 1868 that government had no business telling whites, blacks and Native Americans who they could or could not marry. But it took until 1967 for the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down the remaining anti-miscegenation laws in other states. Even then, the state of Alabama didn’t comply until 2001.

Like interracial marriages in the last century, same-sex marriage was once considered an extreme concept. That is no longer the case. Today, poll after poll shows that a majority of Americans no longer feel that legalizing gay marriage threatens heterosexual marriage.

The nonpartisan Pew Research Center has found that sentiment stronger in younger voters: 61 percent of those polled under the age of 32 support the right of homosexuals to marry.

State governments have been trying to regulate loving relationships between its citizens since the nation was founded, but the truth is finally emerging: government simply has no interest in restricting marriage between any two people, regardless of race, religion, gender or any other qualifier.

A growing percentage of Americans now correctly view gay marriage as a basic civil rights issue. It is wrong to deny anyone the right to marry the person they love.

Our state took the first step toward this goal in 2009 with passage of the domestic-partnership law, which voters overwhelmingly approved.

But a civil union is not a marriage. “Everything but marriage” may have granted all the legal and technical rights to loving spouses, but it offered none of the emotional or spiritual expressions of a committed relationship.

As Republican Rep. Maureen Walsh has said, “My daughter came out of the closet a couple of years ago. And you know what? … She’s still a fabulous human being, and she’s met a person who she loves very much … 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.”

Approving R-74 also means respecting the freedom to exercise religious values. There is no requirement for any person or institution to perform a same-sex marriage.

It is true that until the federal government removes or amends the Defense of Marriage Act, legally married couples in Washington will still not enjoy all the same benefits as heterosexual couples. The DOMA would still restrict Social Security and certain immigration rights to same-sex spouses.

The federal law also denies veteran’s benefits to a homosexual spouse, even though gays can now serve openly in the U.S. military.

Still, approving R-74 is a significant step towards full marriage equality.

Voting yes stands up for basic civil rights in a modern context, and embraces a future with marriage equality.