by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
Washington United for Marriage, the coalition of organizations, congregations, unions, and businesses working together to secure civil marriage for loving, committed Gay and Lesbian couples in Washington state, held several community meetings throughout the state in recent days and heard one common chorus: LGBT Washingtonians want civil marriage in 2012.
The push for full marriage equality is here. The time has come, and with it is a dedicated organizing campaign that makes a complex issue as simple as possible. We must win in the legislature and at the ballot. If Referendum 71 taught us - and our opponents - anything, it is that we are ready for a fight. We are committed to this whatever it takes. And we intend to win this thing.
In order to secure civil marriage for Washington citizens in 2012, we will need to rally behind a central campaign. That is where Washington United for Marriage comes into play. Although the coalition is officially one week old, it is already growing in size and support.
'Washington United for Marriage is in the process of hiring a campaign manager,' Josh Friedes, marriage equality director for Equal Rights Washington (ERW), told Seattle Gay News. 'Many of our coalition members are 'in-kinding' staff, services, and technology to the coalition.'
Very significantly, the Human Rights Campaign is contributing a field team, just as they did in the successful effort to pass a marriage bill through the New York legislature.
'The field team is led by Adrian Matanza, who many know from his outstanding service to the Approve 71 campaign,' continued Friedes. 'Rounding out the team are Molly Griffard, Joy Kang, Michael Martin, Maggie Thompson, and Halei Watkins. These are all individuals who were living in Washington when hired by HRC and these names will be familiar to many who are engaged in political organizing, social justice, and coalition building.'
Washington United for Marriage's professional lobbying team is particularly strong because it brings together the lobbying power of ERW, Legal Voice, the ACLU of Washington, Planned Parenthood, UFCW 21, SEIU, Faith in Action, the Jewish Federation, and many other organizations with respected lobbyists in Olympia.
'Marriage matters to everyone, and it is important that our spokespeople and movement represent the diversity of the people who will benefit from marriage equality,' said Friedes. 'It was very powerful at the Tacoma community meeting when Mayor Marilyn Strickland spoke about her support of marriage equality from the perspective of both a Korean American and African American. It is all our responsibility to make sure Washington United welcomes and engages all communities.'
There is significant outreach underway being led by Washington United leaders, including Marcos Martinez from Entre Hermanos, Liezl Rebugio of the ACLU of Washington, and George Cheung and Kristina Logsdon from the Win/Win network. Over 30 organizations representing communities of color supported the Approve 71 campaign, and although this is only the second week of the Washington United campaign, outreach to these organizations has already started.
'Among our early endorsers is Asian Pacific Americans for Civic Empowerment,' said Friedes. 'We will soon be holding opportunities for couples to become comfortable speaking to the media and we will make sure that we work with couples who reflect the diversity of the Washington electorate.'
'Generally, I think we have done a good job making sure the speakers at the meetings reflect the diversity of the communities where the meetings are being held. I think we missed the mark at our Seattle community meeting with respect to having speakers that reflected the diversity of the Seattle area.'
'We did, however, do well with respect to gender, age, gender identity, and faith tradition,' concluded Friedes.
Washington voters have heard over and over again that we need to lobby our politicians about the need for marriage equality in our state. But what about those of us who live in the 43rd District? Our elected leaders support marriage equality. What role do we play?
'It is true that Speaker [Frank] Chopp, Senator Ed Murray, and I all strongly support marriage equality - so you do not need to convince us,' Representative Jamie Pedersen told Seattle Gay News. 'However, it is good for us to be able to say that we have heard from hundreds of constituents for whom marriage equality is a big issue. So whether you live in the 43rd or another district where your legislators are already supportive, it never hurts to say that marriage is an important issue for you and to thank your legislators for their support.'
Pedersen, an openly Gay legislator representing Seattle who is in a domestic partnership and a father of four, says it is important to look toward future dates that will be significant in the fight for marriage equality. 'Please mark your calendars now and make time to come to Equality Day in Olympia on February 16,' he said. 'A great turnout that day will really help us.'
More broadly, if you have friends who live in south Snohomish, east King, Pierce, or Kitsap counties, Pedersen asks that you 'talk with them and encourage them to contact their legislators.'
'Those are the districts whose legislators we need to be supportive if we are going to win marriage equality next session,' he said.
For those of us living in the 43rd, Friedes says that we have a special role to play. 'We must speak to our friends and family and ask them to speak to their legislators about why marriage matters,' he said. 'But it's a funny thing - the easiest way to make a request of a friend or family member is often to say, 'I just contacted my legislator and I urge you to do the same thing.' We do have to pattern best behavior.'
'So when you get that ERW action alert, remember to take the action and then forward it to everyone you know,' requested Friedes. 'This is how we will grow our base outside Seattle.'
We also need to remember that our opponents will likely try to repeal a marriage bill, if passed, so now is the time to get everyone invested in the process. This means asking everyone in Seattle to be ready to support marriage equality. An easy way of doing this, said Friedes, 'is asking them to start by contacting their legislators. It is the process of democracy.'
Simply put: Lobbying works. Pedersen says that for anyone who is skeptical they need only look to their districts for examples. 'There are several Republicans who represent districts, particularly in King County, that are strongly in favor of marriage equality. There are also several Republicans who believe strongly that treating same-sex couples and their families equally is the right thing to do.'
'In many cases, this is because they have friends, family, constituents, and/or co-workers who have come out to them and shared their stories,' he explained. 'There is no question that lobbying in this way does work.'
Friedes agreed. 'As we work to pass the marriage bill we must be neither cynical nor Pollyanna. That's a tall order. I assure you that the stories told by constituents matter. This is why it's so important to personally meet with your legislators and encourage others to do so if their legislators are not supportive.'
'I've worked on the marriage equality issue for many years and one thing I have noticed is that most legislators have one or more stories to tell about the person or people who moved them to support marriage equality,' he said. 'When the going gets tough, legislators need to be able to tell the story of their constituents. Most legislators really want to do right by their constituents. Legislators take the concept of public service seriously. Our stories and our lobbying help legislators understand why extending civil marriage to loving, committed Gay and Lesbian couples is good for their districts and all of Washington.'
And the number of contacts matters, too. 'It really helps when legislators know there is both broad and deep support for marriage equality in their districts,' reminded Friedes. 'Legislators know that the marriage votes that will take place will be remembered by generations to come. On a matter of this great importance, at the end of the day, legislators will vote their conscience as much if not more than their party. Legislators will need to look their children and grandchildren in the eye and justify their votes. This reality we have on our side.'
WE ALL HAVE A STORY TO TELL
Each and every one of us is an individual, and within our individuality, the unique story of our life journey is written. Washington United for Marriage officials and Seattle Gay News encourage you to tell that story, and tell it in as many ways as you possibly can. Talk to co-workers about marriage equality; talk to friends and family about the love you and your partner share. Write it down on a Facebook or blog post. Use your Twitter account. Contact Seattle Gay News and share your story with our writing team so many can read about your committed relationship. But remember to do more than one of these acts: social media alone is not enough; telling your friend (who already knows your story) is not enough. It is time for you to ask your straight allies to tell their story to their friends and family about how they, too, support same-sex civil marriage in our state. Your story - now more than ever - matters.
'Stories are transformative and put a human face on the issue of marriage equality,' said Friedes. 'Stories move people and legislators in a way wonky arguments do not. And we have so many different stories, the totality of our stories help legislators and the public understand why marriage is the only way that our families can have the dignity we deserve and the protections we need.'
'Everybody needs to be telling their stories and we need to remind our straight friends and family and clergy that they need to tell their stories,' he said. 'These individuals have stories to tell about how they became supporters of marriage equality, about how they want to see their friends and family be treated as equals, and about how marriage matters in their own lives and how wrong it is to deny marriage to loving Gay and Lesbian couples.'
Pedersen has told his own story in the pages of Seattle Gay News on a number of occasions. He celebrated the birth of his sons with our readers. He's talked of the love and commitment that he and his partner Eric share. And now, given the importance of this moment in our movement's history, as we go after full marriage equality for all Washingtonians, he has a simple - yet heartfelt - message for our readers:
'I love Eric and want to express to him and to everyone else the significance of the commitment that we made to each other in our church wedding eight years ago. I also want our kids to know that their daddy and papa are married and to have the security and confidence that comes with that,' he said. 'We can win this if we put in the work over the next 12 months. Full equality is in sight.'
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