Joe Mirabella

Senator Ed Murray's road map towards full equality

Filed By Joe Mirabella | December 08, 2009 9:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics, Politics, The Movement
Tags: Ed Murray, Washington State

State Senator Ed Murray murray headshot.jpgled the charge in Washington for the last three years that eventually resulted in our "everything but marriage" victory last November. Senator Murray was initially criticized for his incremental approach by some in the community. I have to admit even I shot him an e-mail or two complaining that partial rights just weren't enough. I was wrong to be impatient. So far his strategy has proven to be the only winning strategy to survive voters.

A day after the domestic partnership expansion law went into effect last, Sen. Murray outlined six steps that are intended as a road map for Washington to secure full marriage equality. While directed at Washington, I strongly believe his six step manifesto is an excellent guide for our national movement on whole. These steps will not only prove effective for marriage equality, but for full equality in all matters of civil law in all 50 states.

The following as an excerpt. The full text is available at the Seattle Times:

I believe that by following the six key lessons below, our state will realize -- in a lasting and nondivisive way -- our ultimate goal.

• First, we should emulate the strategy of past civil-rights movements with a local, grass-roots approach. We have successfully organized ourselves on the national level, but have had no coherent strategy at the local level. Our top-down approach has given us a big stage upon which to make our demands, but it has provided our movement little influence in our own communities and left us vulnerable on all fronts.

• Second, leaders of previous civil-rights movements never took their eyes off the prize, nor did they engage the biggest battle first. Thurgood Marshall, as the NAACP's lead lawyer, very intentionally did not begin his efforts to end racial discrimination in schools by starting with the hardest cases of segregation. Rather, he picked the easiest cases first, building momentum and understanding on his way to the harder ones.

Similarly, Ruth Bader Ginsburg's legal strategy for winning women's rights insisted that laws be addressed one logical, achievable step at a time: "Don't ask [the Court] to go too far too fast," she told her fellow feminists, "or you'll lose what you might have won."

In our struggle, of course, the biggest fight is marriage. In Washington, instead of picking a fight we would likely have lost, we pursued a progressive series of rights for gay and lesbians in domestic partnerships. Creating legal domestic-partnership rights provided immediate relief to gay and lesbian families in areas such as hospital visitation and informed consent. We entered into a conversation year after year, bill after bill, with the citizens of the state and members of the Legislature about the reality and challenges faced by gay and lesbian families.

Our focus on individual rights -- and the harm associated when those rights are denied -- made the case that the injustice of denying these vital rights to neighbors, community and family members is merciless and unjust. This position won the day this November. Today, domestic partners in Washington enjoy all the state rights and responsibilities associated with marriage -- except the name itself.

• Third, we must commit ourselves to building strong, long-term coalitions with other communities. As we ask for the understanding of others, we must reach out to people different from ourselves, and learn what moves their hearts and minds, even as we ask them to let us into them. We must respect and understand the evangelical religion of many African Americans, for example, and the Catholic religion of many Hispanic Americans. We must find common ground based on our shared values.

• Fourth, we must develop our own civil-rights language. Simply lifting the language of the African-American civil-rights movement cheapens both our experiences of discrimination, and particularly that of gay and lesbian African Americans. Our experiences of discrimination are unique, and deserve unique ways of being communicated.

• Fifth, we must occupy the moral high ground righteously. We will prevail because of the righteousness of our cause, not by yelling, standing in the way of others, or making self-righteous demands. And although it may feel good in the short term to publicly persecute, on the grounds of hypocrisy, Republican elected officials caught in homosexual acts, it does nothing to elevate our cause. It only perpetuates the reality of our own history of discrimination and fear.

• Finally, we must all participate in the political process. Too many of us who wish to see the goal of marriage equality realized have never called their legislators to urge their support, have never doorbelled our own neighborhoods, and have never written a check for a candidate who supports our cause.

Never forget the biggest lesson from the civil-rights movement: In this country, political change always follows cultural change. Individuals, far more than any gay legislator, will determine when we finally achieve marriage equality.
State Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, is the majority caucus chairman and is the prime sponsor of domestic-partnership legislation in each of the past three years.

The complete text is available at the Seattle Times.

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While I agree with most of what Senator Murray has outlined, I respectfully disagree with his second point about the incremental approach. I also disagree that his cited examples (regarding aspects of the civil rights and women's rights movements) are analogous. A few points to consider:

1) I have always seen the marriage struggle as a battle for our rightful place in society. It is really about equality and not necessarily about the few, albeit important, benefits afforded marriage/civil unions on the state level. By ceding ground, even semantically, we send the message that we do not see ourselves as equal or worthy of equal standing.

2) Although the article did not do so, it is easy to compare and contrast Maine with Washington and say that the difference was the word marriage. I don't think we know if that is true and until a more thorough analysis is done we do ourselves a disservice by jumping to that conclusion. Maine and Washington are very different places, the circumstance were very different and the outcomes can be explained by many factors not related to the word marriage.

3) Many people will state that their opposition to equality is the word marriage when in fact it is homophobia that they are too ashamed to admit. Keep in mind that in many states, all forms of same-sex unions are banned, not just marriage. Those movements had little to do with a word and everything to do with prejudice. We fool ourselves by thinking the only thing we have to overcome is a religious objection to a single word. It runs much deeper.

4) Why are we not fighting for the churches that would marry same-sex couples if permitted by the state? It is assumed that religion is a monolith that speaks with one voice and that all churches view homosexuality the same way. It isn't and they don't. There is a subtle form of discrimination happening against more liberal churches that needs to be addressed as long as the secular state is in the marriage business.

5) I think the incremental approach is logical when the goal is to win equality in the locations and/or legal areas it is easiest first. I don't agree with it when it means defining ourselves as less than whole. I don't think that Thurgood Marshall or Ruth Bader Ginsburg would/have agreed with that approach either.

6) I also believe that the LGBT struggle is unique for a variety of reasons and the marriage battle, although the toughest, benefits us by being fought now. In many places, LGBT people and the ills suffered as a result of discrimination are invisible to many people. The fight for marriage has made this issue front of mind for those who might not have considered it before. Even in defeat, we advance the cause and people begin to see us and our struggle through a different lens. THAT, in my mind, is incremental progress with great value.

I agree with your analysis: Equality is equality. It is a YES or NO proposition. Blaming the word "marriage," misses the real problems: age and "rural voters." These two dynamics work together, as was proven in Maine.

Rural voters (non-metropolitan):

8% of Washington's population is non-metropolitan
50% of Maine's population is non-metropolitan.

Older Residents (+65):

11% of Washington's population is over 65 years of age
16% of Maine's population is over 65 years of age

Importance of religion is directly related to those two factors. While religion has changed dramatically in the last 30 years (more progressive, open-minded), people over the age of 65, especially those in rural areas, have not changed.

We all agree the word "marriage" stirs up the religious folks, but suggestions that trying to trick them with an easier to accept "word" isn't confirmed by the demographic differences in Maine and Washington. This, coupled with the fact that we didn't get the vote out in Maine, explains our loss - not the word "marriage."

If we really want equality - being treated the same, we want to "words," too.

The Senator is not now, nor has he ever suggested that we should abandon the word marriage. He is simply outlining a strategy to achieve the end goal. I think his advice is also applicable to other equality issues. For example, the Matthew Shepherd Act only passed after several other states passed similar measures. In Iowa marriage equality happened only after several cities in the state created their own domestic partnership registries and anti discrimination policies. New Jersey may secure the word marriage on Thursday, but only after they had civil unions. California secured marriage through the path of domestic partnerships (even if only temporarily.) ENDA will pass only after most employers and states already have their own employment non discrimination policies. The list goes on...

Joe, I understand that the Senator is not abandoning the word marriage permanently. He is, however, advocating that we abandon it temporarily. My argument is that such a choice has consequences. On balance, you might find that the benefits of taking the civil unions to marriage route are worth the tradeoff. I'm not convinced because, as I stated, for me the real purpose in fighting the marriage equality battle is to secure our rightful, equal place in society. I think we make it harder, not easier, to do that by accepting and advocating a separate but equal status. I guess it is classic political pragmatism v. idealism.

I used to feel the same way, but now as I realize how many protections my family now have, I am grateful. I'm glad to have these rights and responsibilities while we continue to have the conversations necessary with Washington voters about our families, who we are, and why we need to be treated equally. We could push a marriage bill through the legislature this year, but it would not survive the voters. Is that a wise move, or do we protect families first, have have the conversations, then win? Idealism is important, but it is not always a winning strategy unfortunately.

By accepting - even promoting, anything less than full equality, we knowingly make ourselves less than equal. No thanks.

I'm sorry, but you have NO evidence that using the word "marriage" would lead to "rejection by the voters." It is self-serving speculation, at best. The demographic differences between Washington and Maine determined the outcome (especially age).

This idea that both yourself and Senator Murray are somehow "smarter" because of the incremental approach is completely without merit. On the other hand, I would suggest that Washington State voters ARE indeed smarter than Maine voters - by about 10-12 percentage points.

*and by the way, the Hate Crimes Bill was never passed, it was used to hold the Defense Spending "hostage." There IS a big difference.