A new poll released by the University of Washington shows a surge in support for marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples.
The poll was unique in that it did not ask a binary question "Should gay couple's be allowed to marry or not?" Rather four options were given to respondents with varying degrees of civil recognition.
81% of those polled believed that gay and lesbian couples should have access to legal recognition of their relationships. 41% are in favor of calling those relationships marriage, which was an 11% increase in support since Washington Voters overwhelmingly approved a Referendum 71. Referendum 71 was the first time in American history that voters approved an expansion of relationship recognition for gays and lesbians at the ballot box.
Gays and lesbians in Washington have the same state's rights and responsibilities as married opposite sex couples, however their gay and lesbian unions are called "Domestic Partnerships."
Josh Friedes, Executive Director of Equal Rights Washington and the Campaign Manager for the Approve 71 Campaign, told me, "It is far easier to move a voter who supports legal recognition for gay and lesbian couples, but not the word marriage, than it is to move a voter who does not support any legal recognition for gay and lesbian couples."
Friedes was referring to the incremental approach Washington state took. Over the last several years, increasing rights were given to same sex couples -- an effort that was spearheaded by State Senator Ed Murray.
Friedes celebrated the results during a conversation with me:
The multi-year work that we have done to both protect families and build support for marriage equality is clearly working. In 2006 when we lost the marriage equality law suit, gay and lesbian families had no legal protections in the state of Washington, and strong support for marriage equality stood at only 30%.
Today not only has the legislature passed the domestic partnership laws, that provide gays and lesbians all the rights and benefits of marriage under state law, but the voters of Washington State became the first electorate in the nation to approve these comprehensive protections through the ballot process.
At the same time support for full marriage equality in Washington State has increased dramatically from 30% to 41% with another 23% of voters believing that gay and lesbian families should have all the rights and benefits of marriage.
Now our challenge is to help this 23% of voters understand that it is impossible to provide the rights and benefits of marriage to Washington's gay and lesbians citizens without providing marriage itself.
This can be done with civil conversation in which gay and lesbian people, their friends, family, and coworkers tell personal stories about their lives and the lives of those they care about. What the gay community and the legislature should be particularly proud of, is that in Washington state we were able to protect our families with important legal rights while at the same time propelling the struggle for marriage equality forward.
One of the things we have learned during our work in Washington, is that many people are unaware of the important family federal protections the government confers to the people who have state issued marriage licenses.
We need to make sure that voters in Washington understand that until Washington State issues marriage licenses to its gay and lesbian citizens we will not be able to make progress towards these important federal protections such as social security, immigration rights, and equal treatment under the IRS tax code."