You don't follow local politics obsessively, because you have a fucking life. Fair that. But legalizing same-sex marriage matters to you, because you're gay or your friend is gay or you're just sane. So you'll do something for gay marriage. Call state senator Mary Margaret Haugen right now. You have a cell phone right there, so call her office at 360-786-7618.
Thank Haugen for supporting marriage equality. Why her? It's not that Haugen is a big supporter; in fact, she essentially said she'd vote against enacting gay marriage a couple of weeks ago when several angry constituents confronted her at a community meeting on Whidbey Island. But after getting scores of loving e-mails and phone calls, she changed her mind. On January 23, Haugen announced that she would cast the decisive 25th vote in the senate for a marriage bill. (The house already had the votes.) According to insiders, there was no horse trading or strong-arming to get Haugen's vote—just sincere appeals. So, with her decision, Olympia is going to enshrine the ultimate gay-rights legislation into law.
But Haugen's vote isn't the vote that will ultimately pass marriage equality. At a senate hearing one hour before Haugen made her announcement, piles of angry right-wing Christians told senators that, if they pass this law, there will be hell to pay. Pastor Ken Hutcherson said allowing marriage equality was "bigoted." Gay relationships cause AIDS, one man explained. Another man contended that gay marriage played into the hands of NAMBLA's agenda to legalize pedophilia. Seattle archbishop J. Peter Sartain, who is forcing Catholic churches to advocate against marriage equality, said that gay marriage would deteriorate humanity's ability to procreate.
First off, their angry threats didn't work. (Look at Haugen.) Second, the real vote on this issue isn't the one taken in the next couple of months by lawmakers in Olympia. Joseph Backholm, director of the Family Policy Institute of Washington, promised senators that if they approve the bill, Christians will run a referendum and "place it on the ballot."
The real vote on gay marriage will come this November.
No state has ever legalized marriage equality by popular vote. Washington would be the first, and it will require ordinary people convincing hundreds of thousands of Mary Margaret Haugens.
"I don't think this is an issue where you change hearts and minds by pounding on them," says Senator Ed Murray, who courted Haugen's vote for years. Polling in Washington last July found that two-thirds of voters who support marriage equality have had a one-on-one conversation about marriage equality—a personal, kind conversation—that helped form their opinion. Murray continues, "I think it is an issue where you change positions by appealing to their hearts."
And that's where the conservative right is losing—by bashing their enemies.
"I don't believe their attempt to describe us as anti-religious, disease-infested, family-undermining freaks is going to work with the voters of this state," Murray says. And doing the opposite is where progressives will prevail.
This article has been updated since its original publication.