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Originally published October 16, 2009 at 1:56 PM | Page modified October 16, 2009 at 9:17 PM

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Guest columnist

One family, among many, that stands to gain if Referendum 71 is approved

Please vote for Referendum 71, asks guest columnist Amie Bishop. Don't deny same-sex partners the equal access to the key rights and responsibilities that are automatically conferred to straight couples through marriage. Vote the facts, not out of fear.

Special to The Times

"These people are saying mean things about us."

Our 11-year old son whispered these words to the rest of our family as we waited to testify in front of the Washington state House Judiciary Committee last February in support of the Domestic Partnership Expansion bill, the "Everything but Marriage" law.

Those present to testify against the bill often argued that its passage would be cataclysmic for society, leading to everything from the end of public education (wrongly concluding that schools would have to promote homosexuality), to the legalization of polygamy, to the forcing of churches to marry same-sex couples.

All testimony is available in the TVW archives for anyone who cares to check the facts, and it underscores a key strategy of those who seek to overturn this legislation: Focus not on the merits of the legislation itself, but seek to frighten on the basis of sensational but generally outlandish hypothetical outcomes.

Unfortunately, this may be a winning strategy in the end. Those voting no on Ref. 71, which would mean nullifying the new law, likely will not be voting on the facts but rather on fear. Fear that people in loving partnerships, some raising families like my partner and I are, would seek the next step — legalization of same-sex marriage in the state of Washington. It seems then that many Washingtonians — nearly 50 percent, according to a recent poll — may be willing to throw our newly gained rights under the bus to protect against the future possibility of marriage equality.

Feel what you want about legalization of same-sex marriage, but please do not deny us equal access to the key rights and responsibilities that are automatically conferred to straight couples through marriage. This law, in particular, fills key remaining gaps in rights by granting us those not previously granted through earlier domestic-partnership legislation — such as equal inheritance rights and equal access to employment benefits. It also assures that the partners of our gay and lesbian firefighters and police officers who may be injured or killed in the line of service will have access to the same benefits that married spouses would have.

The financial costs of inequality are high. A recent New York Times investigation estimated that gay and lesbian couples in long-term relationships would pay between $41,000 and $467,000 more over their lifetimes than their straight, married counterparts. I personally know several people who had to pay exorbitant estate taxes following the deaths of their partners — in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Had equal inheritance rights been available to them, they would have paid nothing.

While the financial costs of inequality are high, the emotional costs of inequality are higher still. We are all injured by prejudice: both those holding the prejudice and those who are the object of it. The mistreatment of one group of people by another brings harm to all. Haven't we learned that lesson yet?

My partner and I have been in a committed relationship for 21 years. With two children to raise, we are especially cognizant of the security that equal access to rights regarding Social Security, inheritance, pension and custody would bring to our family. We don't need marriage to legitimize our family, but we expect to be treated fairly and equally.

Our son hadn't planned to testify that chilly day back in February, but he was moved to speak after hearing what, to his young ears, must have seemed to be a confusing and sometimes hurtful denial of rights to our family. So he took the microphone and had this to say: "Some of you may not think of my family as a family, but I know in my heart that we are. So please pass this bill so everyone will know that this is my family."

I think he intuited that his family's security and well-being would continue to be at risk without the passage of the bill. We ask you, then, to please consider the facts of Referendum 71 and vote yes on the issues at hand. So that everyone can know that our family — and the many like ours — have equal access to the basic rights that others have.

Amie Bishop lives in Seattle and is on the board of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission.

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