Are New York echoes heard in N.W.?

By John Laird, Columbian Editorial Page Editor

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Conservative columnist David Frum, a former speech-writer for President George W. Bush, penned a piece for cnn.com last Monday that carried this headline: “I was wrong about same-sex marriage.”

Frum acknowledged that he had been “a strong opponent of same-sex marriage” when he debated the issue 14 years ago, but now, “I find myself strangely untroubled by New York state’s vote to authorize same-sex marriage — a vote that probably signals that most ‘blue’ states will follow within the next 10 years.”

Are Washington and Oregon among those dominoes? It’s difficult to tell, but it’s no secret that marriage equality is gaining traction on both coasts. State Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver, an openly gay member of the Legislature, told seattleweekly.com that he “never thought we’d have this opportunity in my lifetime.” Moeller said there are enough votes in the state House to change the law, but not in the Senate. Another openly gay legislator, state Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, said New York’s approval of same-sex marriage two Fridays ago “provides their citizens with many new rights and responsibilities and momentum for the rest of the nation, including Washington, to follow suit.” Murray also said the goal of marriage equality “seems more achievable than it was yesterday and closer to reality than ever before.”

In Oregon, activists continue working toward a 2012 ballot measure that would reverse the voter-authorized 2004 ban on same-sex marriage.

So, progress toward a more civilized Northwest continues. Still, many people will keep trying to unring that New York bell, supposedly to preserve the institution of marriage. It’s odd that these same preservationists do so little to rescue the institution of marriage from the ravages of spousal abuse, alcoholism, infidelity and financial ruin.

The trend is obvious

The lingering but diminishing resistance to marriage equality grows even more faint in the shadow of numbers:

In May, a national Gallup poll showed 53 percent support of legalizing gay marriage. A decade ago, that percentage was in the 30s.

More than 26,000 people are now registered as domestic partners in Washington and Oregon, about 18,000 in the former and 8,000 in the latter.

More than 11 percent of Americans now live in states where same-sex marriage is legal. The previous percentage doubled on June 24 when New York became the sixth state. Notably, the change there was enacted by a Republican-controlled state Senate. Some of the GOP members must’ve undergone Frum’s type of conversion.

Also on June 24, coincidentally, Public Policy Polling released a survey of Oregon voters that showed 48 percent support of gay marriage, compared with 42 percent opposition; 33 percent support civil unions, and only 22 percent oppose all recognition of same-sex couples. That’s a veritable sea change from 2004, when the constitutional ban on same-sex marriage was approved by 57 percent of voters.

Last spring in Olympia, by votes of 28-19 in the state Senate and 58-39 in the House, the Legislature approved a bill recognizing domestic partnerships and same-sex marriages that move here from other states.

Beyond numbers are legal opinions. Three days after New York legalized gay marriage, a Seattle Times editorial posed and answered these questions: “What have the courts said about allowing same-sex couples to wed? ‘We are firmly convinced the exclusion of gay and lesbian people from the institution of civil marriage does not substantially further any important governmental objective,’ is the unanimous opinion of the state Supreme Court of New York, California or Massachusetts? No, Iowa’s high court.”

Furthermore, the Times noted, “Marriage is a civil institution that may or may not be blessed by a religious service. The choice falls to those getting married and the unfettered rights of houses of worship. That would not change, and was specifically affirmed in New York’s law.”

Clearly, Americans continue moving in the direction of equality, despite withering complaints from die-hard devotees to a discriminatory status quo.

John Laird is The Columbian’s editorial page editor. His column of personal opinion appears each Sunday. Reach him at john.laird@columbian.com.