When I was a gay teenager, lots of my friends were in bands. We had long hair, drank beer, and went to shows in basements. When all the dudes and all the girls would hook up at the end of the night, I was left there being, well, still totally gay. But trying to look not too gay. It was a homophobic scene, honestly.
That wasn't very long ago (geologically speaking). But I spent an evening recently at the kickoff for Music for Marriage Equality at Havana. It was, once again, a room full of people in the Seattle music scene who were mostly straight. But this time, it was as if all the gay-lovin' enthusiasm of every PFLAG mom in America had been concentrated into a superconductor of Seattle music-industry titans.
"We believe simply and clearly that this is an issue of civil rights," Sub Pop's Megan Jasper told a crowd of musicians, DJs, club owners, promoters, and record-label executives. "It's black and white for us, and we will do whatever we can."
And all the straight people cheered—for gay rights.
The group is formally part of Washington United for Marriage, the campaign working to approve Referendum 74 this fall, thereby allowing same-sex couples to marry. Right-wing Christians have gathered enough signatures to place Washington's marriage equality law—which lawmakers passed in February but is now officially on hold—on the November ballot.
It's going to be hard to approve Referendum 74.
No state has ever upheld marriage equality at the ballot. In the dozens of states that have rejected same-sex marriage, groups including the National Organization for Marriage have swept in with stockpiles of cash for ads designed to scare moderate, nonbigoted voters into fearing gay marriage. Gay sex will be taught in schools! Priests will be forced to marry two dudes! Christians will be forced into the religious closet! These outlandish arguments, backed by millions of dollars, worked recently in Maine and California, where polls showed marriage equality ahead until shortly before the election. We will be hearing these arguments very soon in our state.
But if marriage equality wins here in Washington, it will be thanks in large part to younger voters. Full stop. That's how we win.
"The keystone is how we speak and communicate with young people," acknowledged Washington United for Marriage campaign manager Zach Silk.
Nearly two-thirds of voters in this state between 18 and 44 years old support legalizing same-sex marriage, a Strategies 360 poll found last month, while overall only 54 percent of voters are in support (a number drawn down by an older, conservative electorate). If the younger voters turn out in high numbers, we win. But let's be realistic: Lots of young people are disenchanted with President Obama and don't know who Jay Inslee is (he's the lackluster Democrat running for governor), so many won't vote. Yet young people will vote for marriage equality, particularly if cultural luminaries remind them to do it.
"This is our time to create the change that is right," says local hiphop artist Macklemore in a YouTube video he recorded for Music for Marriage Equality. "It's right that gay and lesbian people can join in unions and be together—and be together for life—and have the same kind of benefits that we straight people get by being married." He has two gay uncles and, like the new generation of American voters, can't wrap his mind around treating gay people as second-class citizens.
Also joining the cause: Jon Stone from One Reel, David Meinert, Ben Gibbard, Mike McCready, Ishmael Butler, Brandi Carlile, P Smoov, Sera Cahoone, the Cave Singers, Mudhoney, Hey Marseilles, and John Roderick. And—I'll be honest—plenty more people I couldn't identify. Go look at the videos on the website (www.music4marriage.org), where you can find out more about a campaign through the summer and fall that puts the music scene squarely into the fight for gay marriage rights.
This would not have happened 15 years ago. What these folks are doing is culturally incredible. And it's politically essential to approving marriage equality at the ballot this fall.
All that said, even after showering all this praise on the music industry, I still give the best line of the night at that kickoff to a politician. King County executive Dow Constantine paraphrased comedian Hal Sparks:
"If gay marriage is a threat to your marriage, it means only one thing: You're gay."