UCC hails Washington as seventh state to legalize gay marriage
Written by Jeff Woodard February 14, 2012
Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire leads celebration of new law. Stephen Brashear, Getty Images.
Valentine's Day 2012 is especially sweet for gay-marriage proponents in the Northwest, where Gov. Chris Gregoire signed into law Feb. 13 a measure making Washington the seventh state to legalize same-sex marriage.
"This is a day historians will mark as a milestone for equal rights, a day when we did what was right, we did what was just, and we did what was fair," said Gregoire. Gay marriage is also legal in New York, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Washington D.C.
Meanwhile, on the same day, the New Jersey Senate passed a marriage equality bill by a 24-16 vote – three more than needed for passage, and three shy of the 27 required to override a potential veto by Gov. Chris Christie. The vote represents a stunning 70 percent increase in pro-marriage equality support in the state Senate since it defeated the bill in January 2010. The full state Assembly is to vote on the bill Feb. 16.
In Washington, opponents of marriage equality have already filed a referendum to challenge the new law, which is set to take effect June 7. A group called Preserve Marriage Washington has filed Referendum 73, and if more than 120,577 valid voter signatures are collected by June 6, the law will be put on hold pending the outcome of a November vote.
Gregoire's signature comes nearly a week after a federal appeals court declared California's ban on gay marriage unconstitutional, saying it was a violation of the civil rights of gay and lesbian couples.
Washington state lawmakers voted Feb. 8 to approve gay marriage, setting the stage for Gregoire's signature.
"I celebrate with both coasts the forward progress and the hard work of so many people to make it happen, including the great leadership of so many UCC colleagues," said the Rev. Mike Schuenemeyer, UCC executive for health and wholeness advocacy.
The Rev. Brooks Berndt, pastor of First Congregational UCC in Vancouver, emphasized that the work is far from over.
"We believe marriage equality is in the best interest of Washington families, and we want to highlight that for many years, clergy and their faith communities have been at the forefront of the marriage equality movement," he said.
As event co-organizer, Berndt has been part of an interfaith March for Marriage Equality that began Feb. 9 in Vancouver, Wash., and is covering 116 miles, over seven days, to Olympia. The march coincides with the 20th anniversary of First Congregational UCC's vote to become an Open and Affirming (ONA) congregation that welcomes gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender members.
In a text message to his congregation Feb. 12, Berndt wrote, "Tell them the march is hard for the feet but soft for the heart. Lots of drivers are honking for love this morning."
In a rural area of the state, marchers came upon two older men standing at the end of their driveway, observing the procession. Marchers stopped briefly to chat with the pair, learning that they had been together for 30 years and couldn't wait to get married.
Rabbi Elizabeth Dunsker says she and her 7-year old son are marching "because until all of us are equal and all of us have civil rights, none of us does. Equal marriage rights enhance the value of all marriage rights."
Also among marchers was 90-year old Irma Slocom. "I'm old now and may not get very far," she said, "but I'm all for marriage equality."