Chris Gregoire Reflects on a Marriage Milestone



“It’s time.”

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.)