Laird: Some conversions begin in the heart

By John Laird, Columbian Editorial Page Editor

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

Have you ever noticed how flip-flopping is always what the other guy does? But never you. Oh, no! What you do is update your status.

While many politicians through the years have been flip-flopping like beached marlin, countless other Americans have been updating their status on the politics of marriage. For example, in 1958 fewer than 5 percent of Americans approved of interracial marriage, according to the Gallup Poll. Back then, interracial marriage was illegal. Today, it is supported by 86 percent of Americans. It’s not only legal, but so widely accepted as to hardly ever enter into a conversation.

A similar glacial tsunami (mixed metaphor intentional) is under way with gay marriage. Fifteen years ago, 27 percent of Americans contacted by Gallup supported gays and lesbians getting married. But by 2011, it was 53 percent, and that 26-point shift in 15 years is nudging the speedometer needle past the “glacial” reading.

This same attitudinal change is seen in our state. Back in 2006, The Washington Poll (conducted at the University of Washington) showed 30 percent approval of gay marriage. But in just six years, support soared 25 points to 55 percent. The 2012 poll also shows support of marriage equality to be 84 percent among Democrats, followed by those surveyed in the Puget Sound area (63 percent), women (58 percent), men (54 percent), independents (54 percent) and Republicans(24 percent). All of which prompts three questions:

Does anyone really believe this trend is going to subside or even reverse itself?

If you oppose marriage equality now, at what point in time — if ever — might you be moving over to the right side of history?

Can anyone demonstrate how the quality of life has declined in New York, Iowa, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire or Vermont as a direct result of those six states legalizing gay marriage?

Individual struggles

Then again, polls might not be the best way to analyze this subject. The statistics I’ve presented are aggregate, but they actually represent countless private conversions by individuals who understandably don’t want to be tagged with the flip-flopper label. Their wrestling matches with themselves have not been pleasant or burden free.

One of those difficult conversions occurred in the heart of our governor. That’s where Chris Gregoire pointed recently when she said, “It’s right here that frees me up to do this,” to not only support gay marriage but also propose legislation that would make Washington the seventh state to legalize it. “I have not liked where I’ve been for seven years. I have sorted it out in my head and in my heart.”

Behold, then, the transformation in the governor and in her state:

In 2004, Gregoire said: “I do not believe that Washington state is ready to support gay marriage.”

In 2006, the Legislature banned discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing, lending and insurance.

In 2007, lawmakers legalized domestic partnerships.

In 2008, Gregoire said: “To me, the state’s responsibility is to absolutely ensure equality. The other is a religious issue, and I leave it to churches to make that call about marriage.”

In 2009, the Legislature passed “everything but marriage” legislation expanding the rights of domestic partners. And later that year, Washington voters approved Referendum 71 upholding that legislation.

In 2012 — on Jan. 4 — Gregoire talked about struggling with the doctrine of her Catholic faith. She also cited her own marriage, and said gays and lesbians “have to have the same ability to say it’s love, it’s commitment, it’s partnership, it’s responsibility. It’s not a contract. They want to be able to stand in front of their friends and express their love just like Mike and I did 36-plus years ago. To deny that equality is just wrong.”

Well, it’s wrong, but the denial remains frozen inside the icy hearts of many Washingtonians. Some folks, I suppose, are waiting for just the right time to do the right thing. Other people believe doing the right thing is not dependent on clocks or calendars.