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The Real Meaning of Marriage
by Washington State Representative Jamie Pedersen
June 22, 2012

Washington state is engaged in a great debate this year on whether to extend marriage equality to same-sex couples. Will we be a community that embraces and protects all families? Or will we continue to brand LGBT families as second-class? By approving Referendum 74, and securing our victory on marriage equality, Washington voters will have a chance to make history. We would be the first voters ever to say that the families of same-sex couples should be treated equally under the law.

Five years ago, after a disappointing decision by the Washington Supreme Court, the Legislature began a deliberate process of moving our state toward fair treatment of Gay and Lesbian couples and their families. At public hearings, we heard from families denied visitation rights in hospitals, separated by nursing homes, or ignored by funeral parlors. We heard from families who paid thousands of dollars to lawyers to protect their relationships with their own children.

The legislature responded with a domestic partner registry providing basic legal protections to nearly 19,000 people and their families.

I am proud the voters of Washington state upheld this law in Referendum 71, becoming the first in the history of our country to approve of rights and obligations for same-sex couples.

Like thousands of other same-sex couples, my partner Eric and I are grateful for these protections for ourselves and our four sons. But domestic partnership is a pale and inadequate substitute for marriage.

As a lawyer, I can explain — in great detail — how domestic partnership falls short. In other states and countries with marriage equality such as New York and Connecticut, a Washington marriage would be legally recognized, just like any other. But domestic partnership has no meaning there. The federal government has begun to recognize the marriages of same-sex couples in areas such as employee benefits and deportation. But it does not recognize domestic partnerships.

And there is a web of private contracts that speak only of spouses, not domestic partners.

However, it is not as a lawyer but as a human being that I truly feel the inadequacy of domestic partnership. Marriage is the word our society uses to describe a committed, lifelong relationship. Teachers, doctors, neighbors, cousins, and TurboTax immediately understand marriage. They do not understand domestic partnership.

In February, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued its decision in the Perry case, which concerns marriage equality and California’s Proposition 8. The court said:

“We emphasize the extraordinary significance of the official designation of marriage. That designation is important because marriage is the name that society gives to the relationship that matters most between two adults … We need consider only the many ways in which we encounter the word marriage in our daily lives and understand it, consciously or not, to convey a sense of significance. We are regularly given forms to complete that ask us whether we are single or married. Newspapers run announcements of births, deaths, and marriages. We are excited to see someone ask ‘Will you marry me?’ whether on bended knee in a restaurant or in text splashed across a stadium Jumbotron. … The name ‘marriage’ signifies the unique recognition that society gives to harmonious, loyal, enduring, and intimate relationships.”
I would like our children – Trygve, Leif, Erik, and Anders – to grow up understanding that their daddy and their papa have made a lifelong commitment to each other. Marriage is the word we use in our society to convey that idea.

Thousands of same-sex couples in our state deserve the respect and protection from our government that only marriage can convey, and our children deserve to grow up in a state that treats their family with equal dignity.

Please join me over the next four-and-a-half months to make that a reality. Talk with your family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers about why marriage matters.

Give time and money to the Washington United for Marriage campaign. Do everything you can to make sure that on the morning after Election Day, we can be proud of our state. Our families depend on it.

Jamie Pedersen, a Democrat, represents the 43rd Legislative District
(including Seattle’s Capitol Hill, Madison Park, Wallingford, and
University districts) in the Washington House of Representatives.

This article first appeared in the Seattle Gay News, June 22, 2012
Reprinted with permission.

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