The (Tacoma) News Tribune: Yes vote on marriage equality is right for Washington

Much has been written about what Referendum 74 is about and what it might or might not do if voters approve it Nov. 6.

Why they should vote yes can be summed up in one word. Equality.

Earlier this year, the Legislature gave same-sex couples the right to marry. But opponents gathered enough signatures to put a referendum on the ballot that requires voters to either affirm of reject marriage equality.

It is our hope that voters will approve R-74, that they will recognize that this is a basic civil rights issue and that it is wrong to continue denying homosexuals the right to marry the one they love.

Yes, they now can enter into civil unions – the so-called “everything but marriage” status granted by the Legislature in 2008. But that second-class status isn’t really marriage, and both supporters and opponents know it.

Support for marriage equality has been steadily growing; because young people overwhelmingly favor it, time is inevitably on proponents’ side. Fifteen years ago, only about 25 percent of Americans favored it. Today, the number is much higher, and that trend is going only one way – forward.

Six states – New York, Massachusetts, Iowa, Connecticut, Vermont and New Hampshire – and the District of Columbia now allow same-sex marriage. But the right was granted there legislatively or by court ruling. If R-74 passes, Washington could be the first state where voters affirmed same-sex marriage. Voters in Maine and Maryland will also be considering similar measures Nov. 6.

Even if Washington voters approved R-74, same-sex couples would still not enjoy all the rights and privileges of heterosexual couples because of the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriage. Social Security and veterans survivor benefits, for instance, would be denied to a homosexual’s spouse. Nor would gays and lesbians have the same immigration rights that heterosexual couples enjoy.

That could change someday, though. Several federal courts have declared DOMA unconstitutional, and those cases are under review for consideration by the U.S. Supreme Court. In the meantime, it would be a huge – and correct – step forward for Washington voters to act at the state level and create yet more momentum for marriage equality.

Gays can now serve openly in the military, and that institution has survived; a new study even shows that it has been strengthened by inclusion and equality. We are certain that will be the case with the institution of marriage as well.