When The Columbian first endorsed legalized gay marriage more than eight years ago, we acknowledged that many polls showed as much as two-thirds of Americans opposed to such a dramatic shift in custom.Times change, but our opinion hasn't. Washington's Legislature legalized same-sex marriage earlier this year, and a recent poll showed 56 percent support statewide, with only 38 percent opposition. And our support of Referendum 74 -- which would uphold that legislation -- is rock solid.
Each side in this debate offers a profound defense of its cause. (A pro-con package of opinions is presented on the facing page.) But many of the fear-based arguments against R-74 are easily refuted. One of the most widespread complaints -- that R-74 would erode religious liberty -- is simply baseless. No religious institution or member of the clergy is affected in any way by the passage of Senate Bill 6239. The bill is specific in its protection of faith leaders' right to accept or reject gay marriage.
Accompanying that legislative protection of religious freedom is this language in the broader text of R-74: "A regularly licensed or ordained minister or priest, imam, rabbi, or similar official shall be immune from any civil claim of action based on a refusal to solemnize or recognize a marriage … ."
Another weak argument is that children somehow suffer when they have same-sex parents. Numerous studies have shown the opposite. Parental gender doesn't matter. The sharing of love and the teaching of long-held principles of devotion and decency are what really count.
Then there's the desperate lament that legalizing gay marriage would somehow undermine the institution of marriage. That institution is threatened by many forces, such as physical abuse, substance abuse, financial destitution and infidelity. But there's no indication that marriage-equality movements in several states add to the threat.
On the other hand, supporters of R-74 have truth and tolerance working in their favor. Among endorsees are influential corporations: Microsoft, Starbucks, Nike, Amazon.com, Google and REI. We would also point out that acceptance of gays and lesbians is now found in the United States military, where gays and lesbians have been serving openly for months with no demonstrable impact.
But added to the philosophies of business giants and policies of government agencies are the private beliefs of ordinary citizens. While the debate rages on in public arenas, we get the sense that many Americans have released any fears that gay married couples pose any threat to anyone anywhere.
Some will argue that gays and lesbians already have all necessary legal rights, so why do we have to allow them to get married? That argument defeats itself. The more logical question: Since gays and lesbians already have all necessary legal rights anyway, why NOT allow them to get married? Try as they might, the foes of R-74 cannot provide a compelling answer.
Our recommendation is an "Accepted" vote on R-74 on the Nov. 6 ballot. Decades from now, this raging debate will be viewed as superfluous.