Speaking of Women's Rights: The Days of Equality Are Upon Us -- almost

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Days of Equality Are Upon Us -- almost

Yes, civil marriage equality is so close to reality in Washington. The bill has been signed by Governor Gregoire (who gave an amazing, touching speech). The law will take effect June 7th, unless our opponents gather enough signatures to put it to a vote of the people in November. If they manage to do that, then when we win that battle – and WE WILL WIN – Washington will be the first state in which the voters chose to uphold equality for same sex couples who wish to marry.

Amid all the excitement, I’ve been reflecting on the journey. When the House passed the legislation a couple of weeks ago, I posted on Legal Voice’s Facebook page a comment that it was a long struggle. But when I ran into a former (early 1980’s) Board member, she remarked on how very quickly the LGBTQ movement has progressed.

I guess it’s partly one’s perspective: when you advocate for something all day every day for many years it seems to last forever, while if you care about and follow an issue through an organization like Legal Voice, you might see it race forward.

Both are true with respect to marriage equality, I think. On the one hand, Legal Voice has been working to advance the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer persons practically since our founding in 1978. We helped secure one of the Washington’s first “second parent” adoptions, so a lesbian non-biological partner could legally adopt her partner’s child. And we represented Col. Grethe Cammermeyer, the highest-ranking person discharged from the military because of sexual orientation. Legal Voice also represented six lesbian and gay Montanans in successfully striking down that state’s “deviate sexual conduct” law, obtaining a unanimous decision from the Montana Supreme Court that was cited in the U.S. Supreme Court’s Lawrence v. Texas opinion six years later.

Of all our work for LGBTQ rights, though, the cases and advocacy to ensure that all families are treated equally has been the most sustained and critical, especially in Montana and Washington. From ensuring that couples who split up have their property treated the same as heterosexual couples, to this week’s historic signing of the civil marriage equality bill, we’ve pushed consistently and successfully for recognition and protection of families.

Yet if you look at the intense parts of that effort, it truly has happened in a flash, at least legally speaking. From 2001, when we urged the Washington Supreme Court to acknowledge that the ability to inherit from a partner was not restricted to different sex couples, to today, when Governor Gregoire signed this bill, is no time at all when it comes to social and legal change. The law prefers stability and resists change.

The law can also be a strong catalyst for progress, however: Thurgood Marshall bringing suits from 1933-1954 (and later) to break down barriers to education and public life; countless women suing to eradicate sex discrimination since Title VII became law in 1964 (true, this one isn’t over yet); and, of course the fight for marriage equality. Bans on interracial marriage started falling in 1948, when the California Supreme Court struck that state’s discriminatory law, and toppled legally in 1967 with Loving v Virginia: 19 years. Bans on same sex sexual activity were upheld by the Supreme Court in 1986, and tossed out in 2003: 17 years. And here we are: protections for all loving and committed couples and families in Washington: 11 years.

Maybe it’s a trend.

*photo of Legal Voice supporter Johanna and her son.