The Rooms Where It Happened: Washington’s Road to Marriage Equality


When Washington’s electorate approved same-sex civil unions in 2009, the first such vote for any state, chief sponsor State Sen. Ed Murray made a prediction about marriage equality: “I believe we will get there in a decade, if not sooner.”

Three years later, at 12:01 a.m., on December 9, 2012, Emily and Sarah Cofer went before King County Superior Court Judge Mary Yu and were hitched.  They wanted Judge Yu to perform the marriage ceremony because she had presided at the adoption hearing for their daughter Carter.

Love, =qually: The Journey to Marriage Equality, by Bob Young and John C. Hughes, tells how it happened.  Washington would become, along with Maryland and Maine, the first three states to vote for marriage between those of the same gender.

As recently as 1996, President Clinton had signed the Defense of Marriage Act, saying no state was required to endorse another state’s same-sex marriage.  Washington voters had, a year later, rejected a non-discrimination measure.  The Washington State Supreme Court, in a 2006 ruling, would uphold the state’s ban on gay marriage, listing grounds of procreation and good parenting.

But barriers of discrimination were beginning to crumble. The book tells a story of incremental, step-by-step change.  The first big step, also in 2006, came when Gov. Chris Gregoire signed legislation which added “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to state law prohibiting discrimination in employment, housing, lending, and insurance.

Love,=quality describes an evolution through profiles of those who made it happen, including Gov. Gregoire and Judge Yu, now a twice-elected Washington State Supreme Court justice. It’s a story of inside players who adopted a controversial long-game strategy. The episodic approach will have readers constantly turning to the timeline at book’s end.

As a journalist, I had skin in this game.  My late partner Michelle Pailthorp, then the ACLU’s Olympia lobbyist, was the heterosexual member on the board of the Dorian Group, our first LGBTQ business and professional outfit.  My feelings evolved and friendships grew thanks to meeting its members. I covered a talk by Republican U.S. Rep. Joel Pritchard which “outed” the Dorians. The Seattle Post Intelligencer’s executive editor Jack Doughty, overruling underlings, gave the article prominent play.

The book has flaws. With its concentration on inside players, it underplays the outside story of shifts in public attitudes, notably millennials’ embrace of LGBTQ rights. Younger activists became key players in social change. Newly elected State Rep. Laurie Jinkins, now House Speaker, laid out an awakening in perceptions during a 2012 Methodist Church meeting in Gig Harbor, noting that our LGBTQ citizens are normal folk — your co-workers, “maiden” aunts and “confirmed bachelor” uncles, friends on the ball field or hiking trips.

Our state’s Roman Catholic bishops opposed marriage equality, circulating petitions to force a referendum and recording videos before the November election. But a Catholics for Marriage Equality demonstration brought more than 500 people to the steps of St. James Cathedral.  Key players in Love,=quality are church members. Gov. Christine Gregoire put her political capital on the line.  Ed Murray was/is a practicing Catholic.  Judge Yu is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame Law School and former peace and justice director at the Archdiocese of Chicago.

The Legislature was fortunate to have converts, characters and risk-takers, nearly a century after gutsy state legislators ratified women’s suffrage.  State Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano, had voted against civil unions, but reversed course after praying. She also heard from Whidbey Island’s LGBTQ community at a raucous town meeting in Bayview.

“I have very strong Christian beliefs,” Haugen wrote in a blog, “and I personally have always said that when I accepted the Lord I became more tolerant of others.” She would be my pew-mate when Ed Murray and longtime partner Michael Shiosaki were wed at St. Mark’s Cathedral. (The religious right challenged Haugen in the 2012 election and she lost her seat.)

A brief House floor speech by then-State Rep. Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla, went viral after she said of her lesbian daughter.  “She’s still a fabulous human being, and she’s met a person she loves very much and someday, by God, I wanna throw a wedding for that kid.” Maureen and Shauna Walsh are pictured gussied-up on Shauna’s wedding.

The influence of Millennials is represented in the persuasive powers of Courtney and Michelle Gregoire. The first daughters helped persuade their mother to back marriage equality. Gregoire became, in Ed Murray’s words, the most persuasive “closer” he had ever seen. I’ve long wondered what was said when the Governor called Catholic Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain to tell of her decision.

The book “outs” behind-the-scenes strategists, notably former judge and Seattle deputy mayor Anne Levinson.  It accurately reports Ed Murray’s key role, since obscured by the three-decade-old sexual abuse charges – denied by Murray – which drove him from the Seattle mayor’s office.  He was “unbelievably helpful,” in Gregoire’s words, “and I will forever be thankful for that. Thankful on a personal level.  Thankful as a governor for helping me strategize how to make things happen.”

A tragic happening boosted the marriage equality cause.  A flash flood in December of 2006 trapped Kate Fleming, an audio book narrator, in her Seattle basement.  She later died in the hospital.  Longtime partner Charlene Strong was told she could not see Kate unless she had approval from one of Kate’s relatives. (She eventually received approval from an out-of-state sister.)

Love,=quality does put a soft focus on certain issues, notably rivalries in the LGBTQ community. The incremental strategy came under fire from some local activists as well as national nabobs in the LGBTQ community.  The book pays not enough attention to our state’s longtime attachment to privacy. I learned – on a 1978 trek in Nepal – voters back in Seattle had turned their backs on Anita Bryant. They rejected a referendum to repeal the Emerald City (then the Queen City) ordinance that forbade discrimination in employment and housing.

The book is timely.  The political and religious right, led by the Republican Party and Fox News, has demonized transgender athletes and drag shows as part of a new campaign to discredit LGBTQ civil rights.  It is amazing to hear of such pundits as Laura Ingraham on Fox cruelly go after kids seeking counsel while struggling with their sexual identity.  Religious faith is being used as a cudgel to justify discrimination — witness a Richland florist’s refusal to supply floral arrangements for a gay wedding.

The Legacy Project of our Secretary of State’s office has done the state a good deed in bringing out this book.  It evokes touching memories of a December 9. The day ended at Benaroya Hall, during a break in the Seattle Men’s Chorus’ Christmas concert, when Judge Levinson officiated at the marriage of longtime partners Jane Abbott Lighty and Pete-e Petersen.

The rainbow LGBTQ flag flies over the Space Needle as Seattle celebrates its Pride Parade each June. The parade has come to eclipse the Seafair Torchlight Parade. To the dismay of some gay radicals, the cause has become mainstream, witness large contingents of Delta Airlines and REI employees marching in the parade.

Corporate logos, from Amazon to Microsoft to the Perkins Coie law firm, flashed across the screen at the Human Rights Campaign’s dinner a few years back. On the final visit of Bill Clinton’s presidency, his motorcade headed the wrong way up Fourth Avenue so the 42nd President could make a cameo appearance at an HRC dinner.

As Love,=quality points out, Clinton both signed the Defense of Marriage Act and implemented the Don’t Ask-Don’t Tell policy for gays and lesbians in the military.  Both have since been relegated to the ash heap of history, with Clinton’s support — and that of a growing majority of Americans.

Joel Connelly
Joel Connelly
I worked for Seattle Post-Intelligencer from 1973 until it ceased print publication in 2009, and from 2009 to 6/30/2020. During that time, I wrote about 9 presidential races, 11 Canadian and British Columbia elections‎, four doomed WPPSS nuclear plants, six Washington wilderness battles, creation of two national Monuments (Hanford Reach and San Juan Islands), a 104 million acre Alaska Lands Act, plus the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area.


  1. Thank you Joel for your thoughtful, fair and incisive review. The Love, Equally book is available free on line via the Secretary of State’s website.


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