When Catholics for Marriage Equality brought 500 supporters to Seattle’s St. James Cathedral, just before the 2012 election, the occasion was a two-fer for this scribe: I could cover the news event and then slip inside the cathedral for Sunday mass.
Archbishop J. Peter Sartain had filmed videos denouncing the same-sex measure on the statewide ballot. Didn’t matter: Washington was one of three states where voters approved tying the knot, three years after we were the first state to vote for civil unions. The archbishop forbade his parishes from even counseling same-sex couples wanting to wed. One couple I know simply decamped to St. Mark’s Cathedral.
Of Pride Month 2023, we have much of which to be proud. Seattle can look back 45 years to when it was the first city in America to decisively reject an Anita-Bryant-inspired referendum to repeal its local non-discrimination ordinance. Logos of major corporate sponsors flash on the screen at our Human Rights Campaign dinners. Bill Clinton dropped in on the dinner in 2000, grinning broadly in response to shouted praise of the presidential buttocks.
At the same time, however, there is reason for concern. The forces of homophobia, vanquished here, have redefined themselves and resurfaced elsewhere in America. They’ve conjured up new threats to the Republic in the form of gender-conflicted teenagers, transgender athletes, and physicians who perform gender-affirming surgery.
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, in my early days at the newspaper, had a young, gay copy aide, radical and angry. He forcefully argued that there could be no civil rights without civil unrest. I tried to sell him on incrementalism. My partner had just become the only heterosexual on the board of The Dorian Group, the city’s first LGBTQ lunch-and-networking group.
It turned out that civil rights did come, one step at a time, with Seattle and Washington being several steps ahead of the rest of the country. The evolution had a distinctive home-grown flavor, and supporters who defied stereotyping.
When The Dorian Group decided to “out” its existence, inviting news coverage, it chose a luncheon that welcomed Republican U.S. Rep. Joel Pritchard. The 1978 campaign to sustain the civil-rights ordinance was keyed to privacy and co-chaired by Rosanne Royer, then-wife of Mayor Charley. Our “out” military figure became Col. Grethe Cammermeyer, chief nurse of the Washington National Guard, a tall, strapping Norwegian-born mother of four.
A film on Showtime the other night related the legal battle to overturn California’s Prop. 8, a measure narrowly passed by voters in 2008 defining marriage exclusively as the union of man and wife. The flick lionized two big name attorneys, Democrat David Boies and Republican Ted Olson, who won the case at the U.S. Supreme Court.
I’ve also read and reviewed books, authored by gay nabobs from the East Coast, on how marriage equality was achieved. They contain almost no mention of Washington. Our state’s story had to wait until this year with publication of Love, =Quality, a product of the Legacy Washington project of the Secretary of State’s office.
The Stranger has been campy from time to time, but the word “straight” best describes our state’s campaign for LGBTQ rights. Its case was made through quiet persuasion. We’ve long put a priority on privacy in these parts. In his long-ago Dorian talk, Rep. Joel Pritchard spoke of a quiet, assumed-to-be lesbian couple who worked in his family’s business. They began to be harassed. Republican Pritchard chose to fire their harassers.
At the start of the 2012 marriage campaign, I drove down to an organizing session in Gig Harbor, hosted by the local Methodist church. A young Tacoma legislator, State Rep. Laurie Jinkins, outlined strategy to the largely straight audience. The message: Stress normalcy, the gay coworker, the “confirmed bachelor” or “maiden aunt” in your family, the teenage offspring not into dating. (Jinkins is today Speaker of the Washington House of Representatives.)
The approach made for a mainstream cause. In Olympia, our first LGBTQ legislators, Cal Anderson and his successor Ed Murray, worked in increments – hospital visitations, inheritance rights, anti-bullying, legalization of civil unions. Marriage equality followed. The growing support of millennials came into play. The daughters of Gov. Chris Gregoire helped bring aboard their mother. State Rep. Maureen Walsh, R-College Place, evoked her lesbian daughter, telling colleagues in a floor speech: “She’s a fabulous human being , and she’s met a person she loves very much, and some day, by God, I want to throw a wedding for that kid.”
Our politicians came along. Sen. Patty Murray voted for the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, defining marriage as between a man and a woman. Later, she would call for its repeal and cosponsored legislation to embrace same-sex marriage and voted to scrap the armed forces’ don’t-ask-don’t-tell rule.
A memorable moment in my reporting occurred when the vice principal of Eastside Catholic High School was forced out after entering into a same-sex union. A big demonstration of students supporting “Mr. Z” appeared outside the Archdiocese of Seattle. One student cited scripture to explain why she was there. Who had schooled her in the St. Matthew Gospel? Mr. Z.
City hall was scene for multiple same-sex marriages on the day Referendum 74 took effect. The first ceremony was performed a few minutes after midnight by King County Superior Court (now state supreme court) Judge Mary Yu, a Notre Dame Law School alumna — and a lesbian. An estimated 300,000 people watch each June as Seattle’s annual Pride Parade makes its way down Fourth Avenue.
What, then, is there to worry about? In this state, the religious right has been routed in votes on marriage and sex education in public schools. Not so elsewhere. The Texas Legislature has banned puberty blockers and hormone therapy for trans youth, restricted college sports that trans athletes can join, and expanded the definition of sexual conduct to include some drag shows. Tennessee legislators have largely banned drag shows. The Florida Legislature, at the behest of Gov. Ron DeSantis, has passed the “don’t say gay” bill which bans public school teachers from holding classroom instruction about sexual orientation or gender identity.
With a boost from the U.S. Supreme Court, America is evolving into a country where certain rights are exercised in some states but verboten in others. Idaho has virtually banned abortion, while Washington has extended protection of abortion rights. Conservative activist Christopher Rufo could find no traction here for his opposition to critical race theory and LGBTQ discussion in public schools. He has been feted in Florida and named by DeSantis to a college board of trustees.
The division is reflected in my church: The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, meeting recently in Baltimore, reemphasized opposition to LGBTQ equality, voting to defend “freedom of association,” and to “articulate a convincing anthropology of the human person, male and female, as proclaimed by faith and affirmed by science and right reason.”
At the same time, however, Fordham University welcomed a Pride Month conference of LGBTQ Catholics, with university president Tania Tetlow telling them: “I am here to tell you that you are loved, bathed in the overwhelming love and acceptance of God.”
And at Judge Mary Yu’s alma mater, Notre Dame put out a picture of a rainbow over its Golden Dome and Sacred Heart Basilica with the message: “Happy #Pride Month! We celebrate all LGBTQ+ identities and reaffirm our commitment to being a welcoming, safe, and supportive place for ALL members of the Notre Dame family.”