Sounding ready for a fight, Gov. Christine Gregoire announced today that she will press for passage of marriage equality in Washington during an upcoming special session.
"It is time," she said. "It's over time for us to ensure gay and lesbian couples have equal rights, and that means marriage in Washington State."
Washington's domestic-partnership law already grants many of the benefits that marriage would; it was often called the "everything but marriage bill" when it was being considered in 2009 and then when some tried to repeal it via Referendum 71 at the ballot box. But Gregoire repeatedly emphasized that her push for marriage isn't just about rights.
"I don't think about the legal protections of a marriage license," she said. "Instead I think about love, I think about commitment."
Marriage, she said, is "not a contract." Gregoire argued that same-sex couples want the right to stand in front of their friends and family and marry just like she had done with her husband. Research from the Third Way has shown that arguments about commitment are more persuasive with voters than those about rights and benefits — which voters don't relate to as easily.
And Gregoire's repeated refrain that "It's time" for marriage equality is perhaps coincidentally also the title of a viral video from Australia that had made the case by showing the romance and commitment of a gay couple.
Critics had already suggested that marriage equality might distract from solving the state's budget crisis in the special session, but Gregoire took offense to that suggestion, saying it's lawmakers' jobs to multitask.
"One thing I think would be reprehensible is the idea that we would say to someone, 'I'm sorry, we're are going to discriminate and deny you equality because we have a budget problem,'" she said. "That makes no sense to me. This is about our values."
Gregoire is following in the path of New York governor Andrew Cuomo who is credited with passing a marriage equality bill in his state by vocally shepherding it through the legislature.
Gregoire's chances of success aren't bad considering Democrats control both the state Senate and House. But state senator Ed Murray, who is gay, has warned in the past that some Republicans might still need to be wooed because socially conservative Democrats have a history of voting against gay rights legislation.
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports that Washington United for Marriage, a coalition of groups formed in early 2011, has been quietly lobbying lawmakers one by one. And in reaction ahead of her news conference, Gregoire's support was welcomed by activists as perhaps the missing piece of a successful effort.
Zach Silk, campaign manager for Washington United for Marriage, toldTheSeattle Times that the backing is "incredibly important" and "provides momentum for the campaign and helps us make the case to other public officials how important it is to back this piece of legislation."
Gregoire has not always supported marriage equality and described her new position as "my own journey."
An increasing number of Democratic Party leaders are openly backing marriage equality, with Maryland governor Martin O'Malley pledging in July to launch his own press, for example. Meanwhile, President Obama has said his position on the issue is still "evolving."