Mood at Seattle debate hints that Washington will deliver world’s first pro-gay marriage vote

Seattleites gathered for a sold-out same-sex marriage debate at Town Hall on Tuesday, October 3. The program, which aired on the Seattle Chanel, featured (from left to right) former King County Executive Ron Sims, Washington United for Marriage advisor Anne Levinson, Preserve Marriage Washington Director Joseph Backholm, and Sen. Dan Swecker (R-Rochester). (Photo by Sara Stogner)

Washington State could be one of the first places in the world to legalize gay marriage by ballot this November.

Currently there are only 10 countries that have legalized or recognized gay marriages, but all have done so through parliaments and governmental bodies.

Maryland, Maine and Minnesota are also voting on the issue that would move the U.S. an inch closer to becoming the 11th country on that list.

If last’s night debate at Town Hall is any sort of litmus test of the issue, Referendum 74 to legalize gay marriage has a fighting chance.

World map of lesbian and gay rights around the world, including marriage rights. (Image via The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex Assn.)

The event featured two anti-gay marriage panelists, Preserve Marriage Washington Director Joseph Backholm and Sen. Dan Swecker (R-Rochester), and two pro-gay marriage panelists, Washington United for Marriage advisor Anne Levinson and former King County Executive Ron Sims.

Although the panel was equally divided on the issue, the audience was much more lopsided, with 75% in favor of the referendum, according to a live poll.

The debate location in the heart of Seattle probably had a lot to do with the disparity; voters east of the mountains are expected to vote in high numbers against the referendum.

But the only vocal anti-voices in the audience last night were a group of five people sitting together in the front row, donning matching red stickers that read, “Don’t redefine marriage. Reject R-74.”

Swecker kicked off the debate by arguing the issue as a family question.

“Marriage in every culture is for the single purpose of providing for children,” Swecker said, who questioned the role of a gay parent not biologically related to a child.

Blue Moon Burger owner Charlie Olson shared his support of Ref-74 saying, “We don’t want to turn anyone away. It’s about keeping our doors open.” (Photo by Sara Stogner)

An audience member in the anti-Ref 74 camp also wondered if this re-defining of marriage would later lead to poly-amorous marriages.

These sentiments were often met with audible disagreement from the rest of the audience, who seemed somewhat eager to get things heated in the obviously pro-LGBTQ room.

“No one should be excluded from having this opportunity,” Levinson countered. “Government should not tell anyone they cannot marry the person they love.”

Other audience members shared stories of a gay daughter’s dream wedding, a catholic priest who views gay marriage in line with the gospel and a Black Iraqi veteran who has experienced not only racial discrimination, but now marriage inequality.

If passed, Referendum 74 will put Washington state on the map for LGBTQ rights. A recent statewide poll shows the referendum has an 18-point favorable lead just a month away from the election.

But this measure means a lot more than just wedding bells and ceremonies for some couples in Washington state.

The Department of Homeland Security issued a recent statement offering deportation protections for immigrants in same-sex relationships that had previously been reserved for married heterosexual couples.

And in a state that is home to over 800,000 immigrants, of which 45% are naturalized U.S. citizens, same-sex marriage rights could significantly affect the lives of LGBTQ immigrants eligible for citizenship.

In the debate, Sims wrapped up his arguments with an impassioned plea.

“It is the right of a committed couple to get married,” Sims said. “People who love each other should be able to say their ‘I do’s.’”


This post was produced with support from CityClub. The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of CityClub.