Hyped up by the historic passage of HB 2661, which after 30 years finally adds sexual orientation to our state’s anti-discrimination laws, I decided to stop by the jam-packed party at the Paramount last night, one of several organized around the state to celebrate the hard fought victory. A couple of quick observations…
First of all, I discovered that a party organized by the gay and lesbian community is not a good place to pick up women… unless of course, you are one. Chalk one up to experience.
Second, the absolute joy expressed last night momentarily lifted me out of the cynical haze of political stratagem through which I often view the legislative process, reminding me of how the work of our elected officials routinely touches the lives of ordinary people. And it reminded me that the impact of such legislation reaches far beyond the actual technical language inscribed in the RCW.
In the days leading up to the historic senate vote, as passage became a foregone conclusion, some of the bill’s talking-point-opponents (you know… those who viewed the battle mostly in partisan political terms, rather than having a vested, principled or emotional interest) started to advance a new frame, which I suppose was intended to take the edge off the Democrat’s victory. Actual discrimination against gays and lesbians is exceedingly rare, we were told, and thus the bill is largely symbolic and unnecessary.
It was on this curious meme that our friend Stefan chose to base his rather measured post-vote post mortem:
Paradoxically, the bill passed precisely because of a shift in attitudes that also renders the bill largely unnecessary. Surely 30 years ago when the bill was first proposed there were many more cases of discrimination. Now (and fortunately, in my opinion), it’s scarcely less socially unacceptable to discriminate against gays than it is to discriminate against blacks and Jews. The bill passed by a slender margin not so much because there’s a still a serious ongoing problem with anti-gay discrimination that the bill is needed to fix, but because it’s perceived by many to be a largely symbolic gesture and the prevailing attitudes in the legislature, as in most cases, are a trailing indicator of public opinion.
Even if I were to concede the point that gays and lesbians are no longer the victims of discrimination, and that HB 2661’s passage was ultimately, largely a symbolic gesture — and I don’t — I would still have to take issue with Stefan’s conclusion that it was thus unnecessary. For many of those reveling at the Paramount last night, the actual day-to-day impact of the bill probably will be largely symbolic, but I can’t see how anybody who listened to yesterday’s floor debate and witnessed last night’s celebration could bring themselves to diminish the import of this symbolism.
It is symbolism that drives many in the gay and lesbian community to reject the “separate but equal” notion of civil union, and demand the right to marry their partner and legally call it a marriage. It is not enough to merely be tolerated; gays and lesbians want to be embraced by the larger society as full citizens, with all the same rights, privileges, and protections. This is not about gay rights… it’s about equal rights.
A while back somebody asked me why I was putting so much passion and energy into this issue, and the blog-room brawler in me responded, “because this is a fight we can win.” But the joy I was privileged to share last night reminded me that I’m not quite as cynical as I sometimes like to present myself.
Josh Feit just posted his own report of last night’s revelry over on Slog, and it provides some of the color missing from my own, brief, first person observations.