By Holly Teige
Love should not have to be measured by a count of ballots. Yet this is exactly what the lesbian and gay community has been forced to endure with Referendum 74. We have been made to justify our families and our commitments in order to secure the very same civil rights so many others in our state already enjoy. I have spent countless hours raising awareness of this critical issue. As a long-time area resident and mother, I ask you now to please read my reasons for spending afternoons in the rain, holding my signs, asking for your support. As you do, please consider what it might feel like for you to stand in my shoes.
How will approving Referendum 74 affect you? Unless you are gay or lesbian, it won’t.
How will approving Referendum 74 affect me? A vote to approve Referendum 74 will affirm my status as an equal citizen. It will give my children the ability to say that their mom is married rather than forcing them to explain to their young friends what a domestic partnership is. Approving Referendum 74 will give my wife the security of knowing she has automatic access to my hard-earned retirement. It will guarantee my wife will be able to see me in the hospital without having to rush home and get documentation of our partnership. A vote to approve Referendum 74 will give my wife the ability to make funeral arrangements for me, if needed, and share in my estate without providing proof of our commitment.
Most importantly, approving Referendum 74 will give my family, my friends, and me a shared language when discussing how adults express their love. When I explain that I have a partner I am often asked with surprise what business I own. I am then compelled to explain that for me the term ‘partner’ is a stand-in for ‘wife’ because my state doesn’t recognize our loving commitment as being equal to those of opposite-sex spouses. “Husband,” “wife,” and “spouse” are all universally understood words that convey exactly the role of loving honor that we take on when making a life commitment to another person, regardless of gender.
What about the children? Having access to loving parents in a secure family unit is a fundamental need of healthy childhood development. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics insists there is no difference in the quality of upbringing between children of same-sex parents and children of opposite-sex parents. Approving Referendum 74 will insure that the children of same sex couples in Washington State have the same protections as the children of opposite sex couples.
Isn’t the existing law enough? No. Do domestic partnerships already give all the benefits of marriage? No, they don’t. It is not the same. Domestic partners in Washington State are required to carry a state-issued card as proof of their relationship. No one should be forced to carry papers to prove his or her commitment. Just as with heterosexual couples, their vows, rings and their love should be enough to prove their union as valid as any other couple in a committed and loving relationship.
Won’t this change what the word “marriage” means? No. Only you and your spouse can define your marriage through your commitment to a life together. No civil law change can influence what the word “marriage” means to you and it is civil law we are concerned with. Religious opinions are personal for everyone and the effort to allow same-sex marriage fully respects the rights for all clergy to decide whom they marry.
Approving Referendum 74 proves to the nation and the world that Washington is a leader in the arena of social progress. Your vote on this issue will determine whether we choose to stand as a whole community in support of every citizen, or continue to fracture and divide between perceived social groups.
As I mentioned in the beginning, please consider how it might feel to stand in my shoes at this critical junction of social progress. Would you feel confident that you were equal to your neighbor? That you could go down on bended knee and ask someone to make a commitment to you in the same way that your father may have? Maybe you wonder if you will ever be able to refer to your loved one as your spouse, wife, or husband? Perhaps you spend time thinking about how to explain to your children that their community simply didn’t think their mom was equal. That their mom did not deserve to enjoy the same civil rights as the rest of society. These thoughts and many more go through my mind every day.
Referendum 74 confers upon all couples in Washington the right to have a loving, committed relationship recognized by civil law. It gives all couples the rights and responsibilities that come with the commitment to marriage, regardless of gender. All we in the lesbian and gay community are asking for is equality. Please vote to approve Referendum 74, and insure that all citizens in Washington have equal access to marriage.
For those who may still have questions, on Thursday, Nov. 1 a Q & A Panel for Referendum 74 will be held at the Sno-Isle Library in Monroe from 6:30 – 8:30 p.m. Free refreshments will be provided, and all questions will be considered and answered by panel members. Additional members of the gay and lesbian community will be available for questions. This event is open to the public and is being sponsored by the Sky Valley GLBTQ Alliance to help raise awareness and improve understanding of the issue as we approach the election.
Holly Tiege is a founding member of the Sky Valley GLBTQ Alliance.