Vote for marriage equality

Human rights are not static.

Until the 1865 adoption of the 13th Amendment, the U.S. Constitution, the universal touchstone for civil and democratic government, OK’d chattel slavery. Voting and civil rights legislation passed Congress less than a half-century ago. It took until Loving v. Virginia in 1967 for the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down that state’s anti-miscegenation statute which criminalized interracial marriage.

Revisiting history, Washingtonians naturally ask what took so long. Fast forward a generation and students will ask the same of us.

Today a core liberty that touches thousands of Northwest families — the right of same-sex couples to marry — is in the hands of Washington voters. It’s time for Washington to side with equality, to follow the lead of Gov. Gregoire and the Legislature and legalize same-sex marriage.

Make no mistake: Referendum 74 preserves the rights and liberties of religious institutions. Clergy and religious organizations are protected from having to recognize or perform same-sex marriages (that said, a large segment of the Northwest’s faith community has mobilized to approve R-74.) Marriage equality stands as the quintessential Northwest cause, a call for government not to interfere with the liberty and rights of same-sex couples.

Opponents have expressed concern that legalizing same-sex marriage will imperil the nuclear family. Evidence suggests otherwise. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the Children’s Alliance, and the Washington Psychological Association have all endorsed marriage equality. As an institution, marriage is the cornerstone of strong families, irrespective of gender.

One of the biggest anti-marriage myths, popularized by opponents, revolves around R-74’s legal fallout. In brief, lawsuits won’t take off after same-sex marriage is legalized. That has not been the case in New York and other states that have approved marriage equality. Schools and existing anti-discrimination laws will not be affected.

The Herald has been here before. Two decades ago, editor Joann Byrd and publisher Larry Hanson agreed to run commitment-ceremony notices. It was the right thing to do, but the decision kindled a backlash of threats, cancelled subscriptions and fulminating letters. The we-heterosexuals-are-threatened recriminations sound backward today, but emotions ran raw, just as they do now. It was an object lesson in human nature, that acceptance of rights and liberties takes time. (Recall the military’s recently discredited policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” It’s history, just as marriage discrimination will be someday.)

Writing in Sunday’s Herald, Rachel Taber-Hamilton, the rector at Everett’s Trinity Episcopal Church, distilled marriage equality to its essence. “Fidelity, commitment and faith are not values exclusive to a particular race, creed or orientation of people; they are transcendent values that belong to all.”

The Herald Editorial Board strongly recommends voters embrace equality and support R-74.

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