Chris Gregoire Reflects on a Marriage Milestone
Over the past six weeks, that’s been the mantra of Washington governor Chris Gregoire — beginning with her eloquent case for marriage equality at a press conference soon after the new year, and culminating with an emotional, packed-to-the-rafters bill signing ceremony Monday at the state capitol in Olympia. Combined with smart advocacy, strong leadership in the legislature, and robust business and faith coalitions, her personal journey on the issue was key to adding one more state to the pro-marriage column.
“I believe Washingtonians know it is time,” Gregoire told supporters Monday, “time to give loving gay and lesbian couples the right to a marriage license. It is time to allow them to invite family and friends to witness their marriage. … Here in Washington, we’ve taken a long, difficult journey, and now the final step. It is the right step.”
Yet even before the ink dried on Gregoire’s signature, one out-of-state interloper and presidential candidate decided it’s also time — time to align his anti-marriage equality message with social conservatives now seeking to repeal the law via referendum.
In a swing through the state, which holds its primary election on March 3, Rick Santorum spoke with pastors in a closed-door meeting, later telling the Seattle Times of the law, “We have a serious issue about trying to get moms and dads to marry and stay together. I don't see this as encouraging that. I think that at least from my perspective, it tends to water down marriage instead of encouraging men and women to form healthy marriages, and that to me should be the objective of the government, because that is in the best interests of our society.”
Gregoire isn’t buying Santorum’s sudden purported interest in the welfare of Washington families. “It’s interesting to have a candidate for President of the United States coming to a state like mine, not knowing our culture, not knowing who we are or what we stand for,” the governor said Tuesday in a phone interview. “We’re one of the most diverse states in the country. We’re proud of that. It makes us who we are.”
Gregoire spoke to The Advocate about the bill’s swift success in Olympia as well as Santorum’s recent stump-speech demagoguery. She also had some subtle advice on marriage equality for the ever-evolving president.
The Advocate: Last month, you implored the Washington state legislature to consider this issue “thoughtfully and respectfully.” And it seems like you got what you asked for. Were you at all surprised, considering how legislative battles have played out in other states?
Governor Gregoire: In the end, I have to say I was. When we had the debate on the floor of the Senate, it was just an example of how we can deal with very emotional issues intelligently and thoughtfully. And to me, it was an example for the rest of the country of how we can make things happen. I’m still kind of pinching myself and thinking, “How did this really happen this quickly, this respectfully, this well?”
What advice would you give to other governors who may personally support marriage rights for gays and lesbians, and are looking to lead on this issue, as you have done?
I wish other governors who are grappling with this issue could stand in my shoes [Monday] and feel the pride that I did for my state and for my legislature. We had the ceremony in a room that holds maybe 300 people, though there were probably 500 in the room. Don’t tell the fire marshal that. [Laughs] And these were people who are gay and straight, Republican and Democrat, old and young. It was a representative sampling across my state. I must share with you it was one of the prouder days I’ve seen as governor.
Have you heard from President Obama or administration officials on the bill’s passage?
I have not. I did receive a wonderful call from Rob Reiner.
Would you welcome a White House statement on this victory?
You know, I know the president has advanced the country dramatically, and I’m very proud of what he’s done. My husband is a Vietnam veteran, and we have believed strongly throughout that “don’t ask, don’t tell” had to be repealed, and the president stepped up to that. Beyond that, I know he’s on his own personal journey, and I respect that, as I’ve been on mine. But I will say that I feel better today than I have for the last seven years in office with the culmination of my journey, and seeing what we were able to do.
And so, I respect what the president is doing. I will see him on Friday, he’s going to come visit our state.
Rick Santorum was campaigning in your state earlier this week and urged religious leaders to fight this law. What would you say to him?
It’s interesting to have a candidate for President of the United States coming to a state like mine not knowing our culture, not knowing who we are or what we stand for. We’re one of the most diverse states in the country. We’re proud of that. It makes us who we are. So to him I would say, before you reach to conclusions about what’s right for the people of the state of Washington, come be a part of my state, come listen to the debate on the floor of the House and Senate. Understand how passionately we feel, and how we’ve been on a journey. And we’re proud of the day that we finished that journey and stood for equality in marriage.
(Interview continues on next page.)
Probably, but I would venture it may very well come from outside sources rather than from within my state. We have signature gathering where you can be paid, so I suspect there very well may be money coming in from outside the state to do that.
But I’m not really afraid. We started with anti-discrimination, moved to domestic partnership, moved to the ballot, and now this is our final step towards equality. So I think the people of my state have been on the same journey that I’ve been on.
Prior to your announcement on the bill last month, you spoke with Seattle archbishop J. Peter Sartain, who opposed the bill and asked Catholics in the state to lobby against it. Have you spoken with him since you signed it?
He called, I wasn’t here to take the call, my chief of staff did, and he expressed appreciation for the work that was done to protect and honor religious freedom in the state. I have had a very good and civil relationship with the archbishop here on this subject, so I’m very thankful and appreciative of him recognizing what we did in the bill, what I felt was important for that faith and any other faith that felt similarly, which is to respect their religious freedom.
Are you still seeking to speak with Gov. Christie in New Jersey on this issue as his state also weighs a marriage equality bill?
At the end of January, I wrote Gov. Christie a letter — I’ve gotten to know him through my work at the National Governors Association. And I shared with him the fact that I’d been a governor now for almost eight years, and I’ve dealt with this subject all eight years. And yes, I was struggling with the fact that I was both governor and Catholic. But I had reached a point where I felt good about where I had culminated my journey. I gave him a copy of the remarks [at the press conference introducing the bill], and I invited him to give me a call to talk it through. The Senate in New Jersey now has stood up on the issue, the Assembly will stand up soon. And then I’m going to reach out to them to see if he’d like to talk about it. I’d like him to consider whether he could share with the state of New Jersey a similar kind of pride that I saw yesterday.
Someone shouted out during the signing, “Do not betray Christ.” But it sounds to me that you see this law as a way of honoring your faith, not betraying it. As a Catholic, how have you come to terms with your faith and your support for marriage equality?
My faith is, to myself, my husband, and my two daughters, very important. And I really do believe that my faith is about the less fortunate, the minority, the immigrants, the poor. While I respect the doctrine of my faith and the sacrament of marriage, I believe I stand proudly with what is the fundamental underpinning of my faith, which is that I respect all people, and I will lift them up the best I can.