(Vivian Johnson for The Columbian)
Second in a series
This is the second of two stories. The first story talked with proponents of Referendum 74.
To Camas resident Piper McEwen, marriage is an important institution that must be safeguarded against change.
The married mother of five said she’ll be voting this fall to reject a same-sex marriage ballot measure because she believes children receive the best upbringing when they have one mom and one dad — and that ideal would be weakened if same-sex couples could marry. She also said she has concerns with a law that essentially gives the stamp of approval to same-sex relationships.
“When you think about teenagers today, they don’t really think things through,” McEwen, 44, said. “They look at what is legal and think that is the right thing ... if it’s the law, it must be right. ... I just don’t think (same-sex marriage is) beneficial for our culture and our society and our future families.”
If Referendum 74 is approved by voters this fall, Washington would be the first state to vote in favor of same-sex marriage.
Washington state’s current domestic partnership law gives same-sex couples most of the rights granted to married heterosexual couples. But many same-sex couples say they want to have their relationship recognized at the highest possible level, as a matter of respect and dignity.
Opponents say they worry that broadening the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples would undermine the traditional gender roles of moms and dads. Many opponents of same-sex marriage also reference their Christian faith when discussing the importance of preserving the traditional family model they say is outlined in the Bible.
“The question before us this year is: ‘What is the definition of marriage in Washington state?’” said Greg Noelck, the volunteer director in Clark County for Preserve Marriage Washington. “How do we define it? What is its purpose?”
He and about 40 other opponents of same-sex marriage gathered this month at Fishers Grange in Vancouver to rally and organize their cause. They handed out red buttons and signs featuring these phrases: “Marriage = One Man + One Woman,” “Reject R-74” and “Don’t redefine marriage.” The group’s signs have been popping up throughout the county.
Referendum 74 was put on the ballot by opponents of same-sex marriage, following the Legislature’s passage of a same-sex marriage bill this year. A vote to approve the measure means one is voting to uphold the same-sex marriage legislation.
Debating the issue
Chip White, spokesman for Preserve Marriage Washington, said the same-sex marriage law sends a message that moms and dads “don’t matter,” because “any two parents will do.” Preserve Marriage Washington is leading the charge in the state against the new law.
“A man cannot be a mom,” White said. “A woman cannot be a dad. It’s true that unfortunately in life — because of death and divorce — sometimes kids don’t have the opportunity to grow up with both of their natural parents, but the ideal we should strive for, what we really should aim for as a society, is that kids would grow up with both of their natural parents, their mother and their father.”
The ballot measure doesn’t change anything in regards to same-sex couples raising children. Same-sex couples are permitted to raise children and do so today.
Another issue for same-sex marriage opponents is that the law would not allow those in the wedding industry, such as photographers, caterers and wedding planners, to decline to participate in same-sex ceremonies for religious reasons.
“If I’m a wedding photographer,” White said, “I’m not going to be able to say I only take pictures of traditional weddings.”
Supporters of same-sex marriage point out that protections in the legislation would safeguard faith-based groups that want to deny marriage ceremonies and adoption services to same-sex couples.
Same-sex marriage is also not what God intended, Pastor Brian Daehn said at the recent rally. After showing the audience a toothbrush, he said that just as the inventor of the toothbrush intended the tool to be used for brushing teeth, God, the creator of humans, intended “for man and woman to be joined together.”
“Let us go back to the original intent, let us go back to the eternal purpose, and keep that as our way as we forge forward, further into the 21st century,” said Daehn, a pastor at Vancouver’s Living Well Church.
Although many faith-based groups in Washington state oppose same-sex marriage, other religious organizations support the same-sex marriage law. One such group is Vancouver’s First Congregational United Church of Christ, which recently organized a march from Vancouver to Olympia in support of same-sex marriage.
Noelck said the Preserve Marriage movement started in Clark County at the grass-roots level once the legislation was passed. He has been able to organize supporters to the cause through email.
Marriage as an institution is already being weakened, McEwen, the mother of five, said. Many heterosexual couples don’t take the commitment of marriage seriously and divorce rather than trying to make their relationship work. McEwen’s parents divorced when she was 12, and it negatively impacted her childhood, she said.
“The value of marriage has already been damaged over time,” she said. “To add one more thing that lessens the importance of it and that value of it — I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
Of course, that ideal is not always obtainable, McEwen added. Sometime couples do need to divorce, especially if the relationship is abusive.
She said her Christian faith played a large role in her reaching her opinions about Referendum 74. She said she personally believes that same-sex relationships are unnatural.
“I don’t think that’s God’s design for man or woman,” she said, adding that “there’s a purpose for the differences” between men and women.
McEwen said she hasn’t always had an interest in politics, but she’s been getting involved lately after realizing the importance of leaving a positive legacy for future generations. The rally she attended this month was her first experience with the Reject 74 movement.
Vancouver resident Riley Hategan, 24, who also attended the recent rally, said she worries the same-sex marriage law would cause a cultural shift.
“Marriage would no longer revolve around the needs of the children,” she said. “It would really shift it to revolve around what is in the best interest of the adults.”
Three other states are voting on same-sex marriage measures this year. Proponents of Referendum 74 said they hope its approval will send a strong message to the federal government that same-sex marriage is something the people support. Washington’s same-sex couples in domestic partnerships don’t have the same federal rights as heterosexual married couples, especially when it comes to tax rules.
Same-sex marriage is legal in six states and in the District of Columbia. Those rules were passed by legislative bodies or established through a court ruling, not through a public vote.