Robert Ullman

My relatives are the kind of folks who live on a few acres in the Port Orchard backwoods. We're the sort of family in which everyone ends up at my grandmother's house on Sundays talking about diets. We're also by and large a Republican family.

So I avoid talking to my conservative family about political issues to preserve a comfortable "don't ask, don't tell" ideological relationship. But Referendum 74 is on the ballot, and these conversations need to happen if it's going to pass.

With that in mind, on a recent Sunday I asked my family if they would be voting for R-74. My grandmother shuffled her feet in her slippers, and my uncle sighed the way he does when he sees a fight brewing. There were a few murmurs of "That's just not right" and "Gosh no, I couldn't support that." I asked why, and there was a thick silence. I tried to maintain eye contact, but everyone was looking elsewhere, watching the dogs run circles around the coffee table. Then my grandmother faced me and said, clear-eyed: "For me, no. I just don't... no." Then—either accidentally or as the best theater—my grandmother knocked her mug of water on the floor and someone shrieked, "Enough of this conversation."

I pressed on, and both my grandmother and my aunt ended up recounting the story of a Seattle lesbian (Kate Fleming) ending up in the hospital in grave condition after a sudden rainstorm and flooding filled the basement of her home, and how her partner had a hard time getting in to see her and make medical decisions before Fleming ultimately died in December 2006. They've never met a homosexual, they mentioned, but that story years ago on KING 5 just made them cry. "I think they should have all of those rights, of course," my grandmother said.

I ultimately realized that I needed to frame R-74 in a way in which my relatives could agree. I can't convince my grandmother that gay marriage is right for her church, but I didn't have to. Instead, I made a successful case that each church should be able to decide what is right for its congregation (which R-74 allows). I hammered on this individual-liberty point again and again until the murmurs turned to a quiet consensus that people should be left alone to do what they want.

On some level, I feel like I lost a moral battle with myself. Instead of engaging in a conversation about love being love no matter who it's with, I fought on easier ground—that people should be equal in the eyes of the state, that churches shouldn't be meddled with, that you can't tell anybody else what to do or what not to do. But I'm proud to say this argument worked. I'm not sure if they'll all vote yes, but none of them are voting no. recommended