Laird: 104 miles is not so far when there’s a spring in your step

By John Laird, Columbian Editorial Page Editor

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When does a march become a strut? The short answer: Feb. 9. That’s when several organizations will gather at Vancouver First United Methodist Church to begin a seven-day, 104-mile march for marriage equality. Destination: the state Capitol.

In the past week, this march started turning into a bit of a strut. On Monday it was revealed that enough votes in the Legislature had committed to legalizing gay marriage in Washington state. So we can understand why these marchers will have a spring in their step when they set off on their trek at 7 a.m. on Thursday, Feb. 9. Teams of walkers will share shifts, but there’s nothing to stop someone from walking all 104 miles.

The march has a few secular sponsors, but the organizational efforts have been led by people of faith. Sponsors include the Faith Action Network, the Religious Coalition for Equality, the Community of Welcoming Congregations and Equal Rights Washington. The idea of a marriage-equality march originated at First Congregational United Church of Christ (the church with the swooping roof just east of Highway 99 on Northeast 68th Street). The pastor there, Brooks Berndt, reports that both secular and religious groups are signed up. Despite last week’s positive news, there’s still a lot of message-spreading to do and legislative hurdles to clear.

The crucial assenting votes are ready (including four brave Republicans), but gay-marriage foes will put up a fierce fight. If the legislation passes as expected, opponents will try to reverse the action through the referendum process. They’ll have 90 days after the governor signs the bill to collect 120,577 signatures to get the measure on the ballot. It could take until December for Washington to become the seventh state to legalize gay marriage.

Progress comes slowly

Many of us wish this could happen more quickly, but civilizing society often takes time. There’s this big load to lift. When legions of status quo worshippers are being dragged into the 21st century, a lot of legislative tow trucks and philosophical winches are required.

With that in mind, perhaps it’s best to avoid strutting and focus on marching. And when the marchers get to the Capitol on Feb. 15, among the first people they should thank are four Republicans who broke party ranks and supported marriage equality: state Sens. Cheryl Pflug of Maple Valley and Steve Litzow of Mercer Island, and state Reps. Glenn Anderson of Fall City and Maureen Walsh of Walla Walla.

Which raises a key question: Who might become the first Republican politician from Clark County to support marriage equality? If more persuasive evidence is needed, consider the corporate word from Starbucks, which last week joined Microsoft and other business giants to support the cause. Starbucks says it has “a lengthy history of leading and supporting policies that promote equality and inclusion. … We are deeply dedicated to embracing diversity and treating one another with respect and dignity.”

Of course, much of the opposition is rooted in churches, which are doing a commendable job upholding their side of the debate. But there’s also Washington United for Marriage, a group of “clergy and religious leaders from across Washington state” who support same-sex marriage. They argue that this is “an issue of religious freedom, for a denial of civil recognition dishonors the religious convictions of those communities and clergy who do officiate at, and bless, same-sex marriages … . The state should not favor the convictions of one religious group over another to deny individuals their fundamental right to marry and have those marriages recognized by civil law.” Polls show they’re not alone.

Among the gay-marriage foes, there remains this one glaring hypocrisy: Many of them love to preach about “getting government out of our lives.” But for this one aspect of the people’s private lives, it’s full-speed-ahead for government meddling.