Back to Archives

Washington United for Marriage keeps fighting

With SB 6239 on the books, organizers now turn attention to protecting marriage-equality on the ballot

Washington United for Marriage organized a number of phone banks during its campaign to rally support for same-sex marriage.

Email Article Print Article Share on Facebook Share on Reddit Share on StumbleUpon

Earlier this week Washington United for Marriage, a statewide campaign leading the effort to lobby in support of marriage equality, celebrated the completion of the first half of its mission when Governor Gregoire signed legislation passing same-sex marriage into law.

Over the past three months Washington United has directed and equipped advocacy efforts in communities all over the state. The organization has also lobbied state legislators as well as businesses, cities and organizations to support same-sex marriage. (Check out the Weekly Volcano's feature from November 2011 on the Washington United for Marriage campaign here.)

In Pierce County, Washington United has led a variety of advocacy efforts, including organizing dozens of phone banks and letter writing campaigns, and visiting Olympia to lobby legislators.

With SB 6239 signed into law, Washington United organizers say they will now shift focus to a campaign protecting equality on the ballot this November, urging people to reject Referendum 74 - a fledgling effort led by same-sex marriage opponents trying to put SB 6239 to a vote of the people. 

Equal Rights Washington has been a driving force behind the Washington United campaign, and the organization's Director of Marriage Equality, Josh Friedes, has been instrumental in organizing advocacy efforts throughout the state.

WEEKLY VOLCANO: This year's campaign and legislative victory were no doubt decades in the making. Can you briefly shed light on a few of the major shifts or achievements in the past few years that led up to this accomplishment and also explain what made this year the right year for this campaign?

JOSH FRIEDES: Equal Rights Washington and our allies have been working tirelessly to build the environment to pass marriage equality in the legislature since 2006 when a deeply divided state Supreme Court declined to strike down the state's so called "defense of marriage act" but held that the legislature had the power to expand the states marriage law to include same-sex couples.  Over the last few years we have seen rapidly increasing support for marriage equality in the general electorate, which makes us believe that we are at the point where preserving a marriage law on referendum is winnable.  The work around passing the domestic-partnership law and the Approve Referendum 71 campaign both built the infrastructure of the LGBT and allied civil rights movement and increased public understanding of LGBT families. Passing the marriage law was made possible by the governor's decision to support marriage equality, support from four republican senators and incredible leadership from LGBT legislators including Senator Edward Murray and Representatives Laurie Jinkins, Jamie Pedersen, Jim Moeller and Marko Liias.

VOLCANO: Considering you had a bird's-eye view, did the Washington United Campaign and the last few weeks in Olympia unfold the way you expected they would? What obstacles, challenges and successes came as the biggest surprise?

FRIEDES: The Washington United for Marriage Campaign is a case study in how to launch a successful campaign.  LGBT civil rights organizations including ERW and HRC (The Human Rights Campaign), joined with labor, faith communities, business associations, Planned Parenthood and legal organizations to launch a powerful coalition in November 2011. The campaign quickly hired outstanding staff and benefited from in-kind contributions from the 100 organizations and congregations that quickly joined the coalition. The campaign was strategic in setting priorities and this led to engaging many major corporations in our work to secure marriage equality.   

VOLCANOThe Washington Senate and House debates on marriage equality were surprisingly civil, and legislators made a wide variety of arguments for and against the bill. What were a couple of your biggest highlights or takeaways from those two floor debates and votes?

FRIEDES: The debates in both the House and the Senate were incredibly civil, and I believe this reflects several realities. The most important change from the 30-year successful struggle to pass the state's anti-discrimination law, that was passed in 2006, is that there is an understanding among nearly all legislators that gay and lesbian people deserve to be treated with dignity and are an important part of the fabric of Washington.  Even most conservative legislators recognize that there is strong support for marriage equality in Washington and overwhelming support for treating gay and lesbians with respect.  Lastly, significant support for marriage equality among republican legislators meant that this was not a highly charged partisan issue in the legislature.

The highlight of both debates was the personal stories told by legislators about their own families and friends. Clearly, republican Rep. Maureen Walsh, who spoke about the desire to give her lesbian daughter a wedding, captivated not only Washington but the entire country. Over 1,000,000 people have viewed her testimony on YouTube. She also did a good job at explaining why domestic partnerships were not enough. Rep. Walsh made it clear, by using her own marriage, that anything less than marriage for her daughter would be second-class citizenship. I was touched by the number of legislators who acknowledged their children had influenced them. 

Legislators made it clear that they understood this was a generational issue and that younger Americans see discrimination in marriage as a grave injustice.  Rep. Eric Pettigrew, the House's only African American legislator, was clear that ending discrimination in the issuance of marriage licenses was indeed a civil rights issue and that was very powerful testimony.  So many legislators acknowledged that they had LGBT family members and close friends. It wasn't like this a few years ago, but today many legislators acknowledged a deep and close personal relationship to the issue. I was really touched by republican Glen Anderson, who spoke about his gay brother.    

VOLCANO:  With a referendum and fall ballot election seemingly a guarantee, what's next for Washington United for Marriage? What will the next 10 months look like and what will the biggest challenges be for the campaign moving forward?

FRIEDES: My greatest fear is that because the effort to pass the marriage equality bill went so smoothly people will think winning a referendum is a foregone conclusion. Complacency and overconfidence are our two greatest opponents.  People must continue to tell their stories to their social networks about why marriage matters. We need people to step up to the plate and contribute to the Washington United for Marriage campaign. The National Organization for Marriage, which funds the anti-gay side, has already made it clear that they will spend significant amounts of out-of-state money to repeal the marriage equality law.    

VOLCANO:  Finally, what can Weekly Volcano readers, predominantly residents of Pierce and Thurston Counties, do to get involved with the Washington United for Marriage? Who should they contact? Where can they learn more?

FRIEDES: Washington United has a strong volunteer base and leadership team in both Pierce and Thurston Counties, and these efforts are supported by the campaign's field staff.  Parties to support Washington United were held in Tacoma and Olympia on Feb. 13 after the Governor signed the marriage-equality bill into law and over 350 people attended these two parties that were announced only three days before. Tacoma has an incredibly well organized LGBT community with strong leadership. Tacoma had the reputation for being better organized than Seattle during the Approve 71 campaign to save the state's domestic partnership law in 2009.

People interested in learning more about the Washington United for Marriage campaign should visit the website at We have a very active Facebook page and we encourage people to "Like" the page. There will be local organizing meetings soon in both Pierce and Thurston County. There are many volunteer opportunities - everything from phone-banking, to volunteering at farmers markets and festivals, to faith organizing or hosting a house party. People should not be shy. They can call the campaign at 425.954.3252 or e-mail us at      

Comments for "Washington United for Marriage keeps fighting"

Comments for this article are currently closed.