It may be unfair to single out any one person, but state Sen. Ed Murray deserves a ton of a credit for the successful strategy by which Washington’s legislature has gradually expanded gay and lesbian rights over the past five years.
Rather than going for the big prize — marriage equality — and much to the disappointment of some activists, Murray has promoted a more patient and pragmatic political approach. In 2006, after 30 years of prior failure, Murray led the charge in finally adding sexual orientation to Washington’s anti-discrimination laws, only to follow up a year later by helping to pass our state’s historic domestic partnership bill. In 2008 the Legislature vastly expanded domestic partnerships, and in 2009 Murray helped passed what he dubbed the “Everything But Marriage Act,” granting to domestic partners all of the state rights, responsibilities and protections legally associated with marriage.
Is “Everything But Marriage” really everything but marriage? Symbolically, no, but in a state where just five years ago one could be legally denied a job, a loan or a lease just on the suspicion of being a little faggy, it’s a huge step toward that goal. And, as Murray has pointed out on numerous occasions, calling domestic partnerships “marriage” still wouldn’t afford same-sex partners the many rights and benefits that are denied them under our federal Defense Of Marriage Act.
Until, maybe, today.
In a decision that seemed to take a lot of observers by surprise, a U.S. District Court Judge in Massachusetts ruled part of DOMA unconstitutional in that it interferes with states’ rights to define marriage. And while no doubt litigation will continue for months if not years before the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately settles the question, even the possibility of dismantling DOMA’s restrictions either in Congress or in the courts, is sure to spark demand for full marriage equality here in Washington state.
Is there the political will to take that final step? For the moment, I kinda doubt it. But should the federal DOMA’s demise come sooner than expected, it’s hard to imagine how marriage equality won’t become a dominant issue in future legislative sessions, whatever the political cost.