The Seattle Times: Op-ed: Washington can again lead the country on marriage equity with Referendum 74

Washington state led the country in marriage equity in the 1930s in striking down attempts to ban interracial marriage. It is time for the state to lead again in approving Referendum 74 and legalizing same-sex marriage, according to guest columnists Phyllis Gutierrez Kenney and Martha Choe. 

By Phyllis Gutierrez Kenney and Martha Choe, Special to The Times

IN February, Gov. Chris Gregoire signed a bill granting civil marriage to gay and lesbian couples, but the law will not go into effect unless we approve Referendum 74 on the Nov. 6 ballot. The freedom to marry is important because it allows all Washington couples to build strong families, and we know that when a family is strong, it benefits all our communities.

Right now, gay and lesbian couples who want to get married are not viewed as equal under the law. Their fight for the freedom to marry echoes another in our country’s not-too-distant history, when many relationships in our communities were also under attack.

Washington state led the country in marriage equity in the 1930s in striking down attempts to ban interracial marriage.

In the first half of the 20th century, it was illegal in more than 30 states for people of white and nonwhite races to get married.

In 1935, House Bill No. 301 was brought before the Legislature, proposing a ban on interracial marriage.

When word spread of possible “anti-miscegenation” laws, a broad coalition formed to defeat the bill and demonstrate disapproval from communities all over the state. This multiracial coalition was key to preventing the bill’s passage. It included churches, women’s groups, labor unions, newspapers, teachers and professionals of all backgrounds.

When a state senator proposed a similar bill two years later in 1937, the same coalition re-formed to uphold Washington’s support for marriage.

The coalition was so successful in defeating the bill that then-Lt. Gov. Victor A. Meyers physically pulled the original copy on file and handed it over to protesters outside the state Capitol.

Finally, in 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that anti-miscegenation laws were unconstitutional in the case Loving v. Virginia. Washington state was 30 years ahead of the rest of the country on this issue.

Five years ago, on the 40th anniversary of her and her husband’s landmark case, Mildred Loving made a statement about what love and marriage meant to her: “ … not a day goes by that I don’t think of [my husband] and our love, our right to marry, and how much it meant to me to have that freedom to marry the person precious to me … I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom to marry.”

Though not identical, we can draw parallels that ask us to act on our values of equality. As an inclusive multiracial community, we can stand together for the freedom of loving gay and lesbian couples to marry. It is time to reprise our role as a national leader.

As parents, friends and neighbors, we know many loving and committed gay and lesbian couples who are raising families. Most of these couples have been together for decades, built a life together and created a home for their children. Their relationships are much more similar to ours than they are different.

They’ve told us they want to get married because they love each other, and want to stand before their communities and pledge a lifelong commitment to one another.

Over the years, we have both worked hard to build better futures across the state. Whether it was creating day-care centers for migrant families or improving educational initiatives for children, we know that creating foundations that support families is the key to healthy communities. Approving Referendum 74 acknowledges our shared values of love, commitment and family.

We all know someone who is gay or lesbian. This fall we ask you to think about the gay and lesbian people in your lives. We ask you to support their freedom to marry by approving Referendum 74. We’ve been in the forefront of a national marriage-equality debate before. Let’s lead the way again.

State Rep. Phyllis Gutierrez Kenney, D-Seattle, left, is a grandmother and mother, including two gay sons. Martha Choe is a former Seattle City Council member and leader in the Asian-American community.