Washington state is promenading down a controversial aisle that's familiar to Californians after its Senate approved a bill last week legalizing same-sex marriage. The lower house and the governor are expected to approve the bill as well. But such civil rights victories can be fleeting, as Californians learned after a court decision legalizing gay marriage was overturned by Proposition 8 in 2008. A similar battle is looming in Washington, where opponents plan to gather signatures for a November ballot initiative declaring marriage to be reserved for opposite-sex couples only.
It will be interesting to see whether Washington will ultimately join the six other states (plus the District of Columbia) that allow gay marriage. As the debate rages, it's worthwhile for people on both sides to take a close look at one very thoughtful memo written by a very emotionally divided lawmaker.
State Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen is a committed Christian who was a swing vote on Washington's gay-marriage bill. When she finally decided to vote yes late last month, she wrote a blog post explaining her reasons, which beautifully lays out the case for why people of faith should set aside their personal prejudices in the name of equality.
"I have very strong Christian beliefs, and personally I have always said when I accepted the Lord, I became more tolerant of others," Haugen wrote. "I stopped judging people and try to live by the Golden Rule. This is part of my decision. I do not believe it is my role to judge others, regardless of my personal beliefs. It's not always easy to do that. For me personally, I have always believed in traditional marriage between a man and a woman. That is what I believe, to this day. But this issue isn't about just what I believe. It's about respecting others, including people who may believe differently than I. It's about whether everyone has the same opportunities for love and companionship and family and security that I have enjoyed."
Cynics will argue that Haugen, as a Democrat, made a political decision in line with her party's ideology rather than a personal one. Yet she is a Democrat in a conservative-leaning district, and her vote took courage. If one takes her at her word, she is a lawmaker who has taken seriously her responsibility to guard the rights of her constituents. She isn't the only one; Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire, a Catholic, was a longtime opponent of gay marriage who changed her views after years of internal debate, and is now an enthusiastic supporter. Yes, we can all get along — once people of all faiths understand that there's nothing morally upright about discrimination.