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Originally published Wednesday, January 25, 2012 at 4:22 PM

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Seven Republicans who stood up for gay marriage in Washington

The fact that seven Republican politicians are taking a risk to do what is right says a lot about the individuals, writes Times editorial columnist Joni Balter. It may say just as much about how unique our Republicans are and about a party updating itself before our eyes.

Seattle Times editorial columnist

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In the past two weeks, four state lawmakers and three Metropolitan King County Council members, all Republicans, have done something that would have seemed impossible in Washington a few years ago.

The politicians — state Sens. Steve Litzow and Cheryl Pflug and Reps. Glenn Anderson and Maureen Walsh — agreed to take a historic vote to legalize same-sex marriage, a bold move by any gauge.

And three County Council members — Reagan Dunn, Pete von Reichbauer and Jane Hague — backed a resolution telling the Legislature: Go ahead, the county wants lawmakers to approve gay marriage. These folks could have steered clear of the issue, but opted instead to stand up for fairness and equality.

All of which prompts the question: What would Ellen Craswell say? Maybe a lot of voters have forgotten about Craswell, who died several years ago. But the ultra conservative, highly religious member of the GOP who ran for governor against Gary Locke in 1996 was briefly the party's standard-bearer. At the time, the GOP in this state was trending very religious and conservative.

Was or is? Good question. Maybe, I dare say, something is changing.

The fact that seven Republicans are taking a risk to do what is right says a lot about the individuals. It may say just as much about how unique our Republicans are and about a party updating itself before our eyes.

Wouldn't there be trouble aplenty in other states — OK, not New York, but Missouri or Texas — if high-profile Republicans went rogue like that?

"I think there are more social libertarians in the Republican Party of Washington than the Republican Party of Alabama or Texas," said Kirby Wilbur, chairman of the Washington State Republican Party. Wilbur correctly notes that the state GOP now has a bigger tent than it did 15 or 20 years ago.

Wilbur crowed that the leading candidate for governor, Republican Rob McKenna, is pro-choice on abortion (not gay marriage) and the leading GOP candidate for attorney general, Dunn, is pro-gay marriage. "The state of the party is pretty healthy; we allow debate on the issues."

Let's not be too naive. We all know that gay-rights advocates from around the country have given four Republican state senators in New York dollops of campaign cash for voting for same-sex marriage last June. Some of those people will support the seven Republicans in our state.

But no one should think for a second that money is the big motivation for the Washington Seven.

I think each is taking a chance on gay marriage because they know in their hearts it is the sensible, fair-minded thing to do.

There will be repercussions. Everett attorney Stephen Pidgeon, who filed an initiative to "redefine marriage as between one man and one woman," also plans to run against Dunn for attorney general. The County Council member was disinvited from a few political dinners because of his support for gay marriage.

The National Organization for Marriage, which opposes same-sex marriage, says it will give money to a primary challenger against any Republican lawmaker who votes for same-sex marriage.

There were years when former Gov. Dan Evans was almost an outcast in his own Republican Party because he is too moderate.

This week, Evans said he has supported gay marriage for several years. He thinks Washington has a solid history of progressive Republicanism, dating back to 1912 when the state supported Teddy Roosevelt on the Bull Moose ticket.

In the 1970s, another Republican, Joel Pritchard, then a state senator, pushed to get abortion rights on the ballot.

Pollster Stuart Elway, who worked for Evans years ago, says the state GOP sent a Pat Robertson delegation to the national convention in 1988 and the state has not voted for a Republican president or governor since. "Republicans went off the rails on social issues and separated from the center of Washington politics."

In what is undeniably a positive development for the party, seven politicians refused to be bound by expectations or party platform. They have provided sufficient votes to approve same-sex marriage. A commitment to fairness and equality and guts will combine to make Washington the seventh state in the country to approve same-sex marriage — and make us all proud.

Joni Balter's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. Her email address is jbalter@seattletimes.com

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