Conservatives ask: 'When in Rome, move to Texas?'

Recent votes have some feeling state is decadent, pagan

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SEATTLE -- In the wake of Washington's historic votes to legalize both same-sex marriage and marijuana use, some longtime conservatives say they're contemplating moving to more like-minded states -- say, Texas.

Bombarded with seemingly endless, breathless news coverage of same-sex couples getting married and respectable people lighting joints in public, some "no" voters say they consider themselves missionaries in a heathen world. Sometimes that's a tongue-in-cheek crack -- other times, not so much.

"I feel like I'm living in pagan Rome," said Dan Kennedy, CEO of Human Life of Washington, who has worked on conservative issues here since 2000. "I just couldn't believe we had gone that far."

It wasn't as if the votes were a total surprise. State Republican Party Chairman Kirby Wilbur noted Washington voters' previous approval of abortion and physician-assisted aid in dying.

"Washington has always been a socially liberal and economically conservative state," he said. "I think the votes show that."

Predictably, socially liberal voters in the Puget Sound region outnumbered voters in less populous, often more conservative, areas of the state.

To David DeWolf, who teaches law at Gonzaga University, a Catholic institution in Spokane, the votes reflect individuals' disconnecting from the rest of society, "elevating the desires of the individual over the needs of the community."

DeWolf, a Catholic, sees the votes as "sort of a reversion to a less developed way of living," he said. "The impulse here is a kind of selfish, me-oriented way of not wanting to think about the impact my behavior might have on the rest of society."

He, too, thinks about ancient Rome. "The introduction of Christianity was the introduction of a way of understanding ourselves that says we're made for better things, we're capable of real charity and concern for one another and living a life of virtue."

Christian virtues, which he believes were ignored in this election, have created "much of what we value in society," he said. "In my mind, this is an unhappy reversion to a pagan understanding of ourselves and of society."

Steve Beren, a conservative Christian political consultant from Seattle who has run unsuccessfully against U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott, says that just because something is celebrated doesn't mean it's right: "I feel bad for those people, because they're celebrating what they're doing wrong."

Still, "I don't necessarily buy that it's irreversible," he said. "If you go back into history, you'll see they were burning people at the stake and sacrificing children."

Wilbur, the GOP party chairman -- who describes himself as a "devout Lutheran" -- says he believes voters who said yes to same-sex marriage and pot don't necessarily support those things. "I think people are saying, 'It's none of the government's business,'" he said. "I think there's a strong libertarian streak out there."

As a political leader, he isn't inclined to move to another state, he said. "I'm not going to give up my home state quite so easily, and no reason why I should. There's hope out there! There's people I've got to convince they're wrong."

Besides, Wilbur quipped, "Our hope is, people smoke enough pot, they'll forget to vote, and then we'll win."

Kennedy said friends have been talking seriously about moving to more conservative states, such as Texas. "It's not fun always feeling like an outsider," he said. "I feel like I should carry around a sign that says, 'Unclean, unclean.'"

Still, he says, somebody has to hold the line. "This is missionary country, I guess. If you want to fight the battle, you've got to be on the front line, and this is the front line."