Testifying for Same-sex Couples
by John G. Wilkinson
© 2000, John G. Wilkinson
Introduction from Partners Task Force|
During the 90s, the radical right in the United States mobilized and introduced state bills aimed at preventing recognition of same-sex marriage licenses from other states. At present, no state allows same-sex marriage. This was a preemptive assault in anticipation of the possible legalization of same-sex marriage in Hawaii. [See Legislative Reactions to Legal Marriage]
Anti-marriage bills like these are troublesome because they blatantly discriminate against lesbian and gay people. They also run contrary to constitutional law requiring states to honor each other’s contracts.
Here are the remarks made by John G. Wilkinson made before a committee hearing in the Washington State House of Representatives concerning such a bill. John was coordinator of the Legal Marriage Alliance.
Legislative Testimony Against H.B. 2262
Mr. Chairman, distinguished members of the House, my name is John Wilkinson. I represent the Legal Marriage Alliance of Washington. Our organization formed to encourage citizen discussion about same-sex marriage.
We believe that individuals who are prepared to devote the love, commitment, and sacrifice necessary to build families, deserve the right to legal marriage. The institution of civil marriage recognizes and rewards the value of committed relationships to individuals and to society at large. Civil marriage carries with it both rights and responsibilities — not only between the married partners, but between the married partners and society. As such, marriage should not be denied
to same-sex couples.
The Legal Marriage Alliance supports families, and recognizes that families build our communities. House Bill 2262, however, is an attack on families. For no reason other than outright intolerance, it seeks to deny the recognition of marriage licenses to a whole class of Washington citizens — citizens who are working hard to build strong families, in some cases to raise children, and to contribute to their society. H.B. 2262 would discriminate against same-sex families who are contributing economic growth and social stability to our state.
I ask you to reject H.B. 2262. As pointed out by prior testimony, the consequences of the bill would be disruptive and expensive to the state and to the private sector. But worst of all, H.B. 2262 does not even do what it claims to do. Same-sex marriage is already unrecognized by the laws of Washington; the passage or failure of this bill will not change that. What the bill does do is to codify intolerance. As a man in a 25-year-long committed relationship, I find the language of this bill especially offensive, by its blatant attempt to equate my loving, committed relationship with the criminal behaviors of incest and bigamy.
We should be encouraging the discussion about civil marriage, not using expanded state power to stifle it. We should be delighted to find agreement that families are important; that society and individuals do benefit from the commitment and responsibility of long-term relationships. Please reject this divisive, expensive, harmful bill.
John G. Wilkinson
January 31, 1996
Postscript from John G. Wilkinson, March 1996|
Washington State’s anti-gay, anti-marriage bill finally died with the end of this legislative session on March 8, 1996. HB2262 would have codified marriage as being solely between opposite-sex couples, and would have disallowed the recognition of same-sex marriages legalized in other states. The bill also equated same-sex relationships with incest and bigamy.
The defeat of HB2262 was made possible by a cooperative effort by LMA, the Privacy Fund, Hands Off Washington, a coalition of progressive non-gay groups and several legislators, including Rep. Ed Murry.
The bill had passed the Republican-held House with a two-thirds majority (it could have been worse). The bill did gain an amendment that would have required a citizen vote, voiding governor Mike Lowry’s promised veto.
If it had gone to a citizen vote, it could have been damaging: a lot of money and energy spent to fight it and to fight the usual increase of violence against lesbians and gay men that accompanies public votes on gay issues.
Early in the session, it was clear that some normally supportive Democrats did not understood the importance of this issue to our community. However, a surprising number of Democratic House members gave especially moving testimony that showed this issue had affected them in a personal way — that moved us, as well.
The religious right had branded the bill as their top priority in the legislature.
Washington State now proudly moves to the “win” column — and the battle continues in other states.
Post Postscript from Partners Task Force, March 2000|
The bill that John addressed in 1996 was only the first of three anti-marriage bills presented. Two more attempts were made in 1997. The first of which was vetoed by the governor, and the second, which had a voter referendum to by-pass the governor, died in committee.
Finally, in 1998, an anti-marriage law was passed, but only by overriding the Governor’s veto.
Like so many of bills in other states, it denied recognition to same-sex couples with a legal marriage license from another state (not available anywhere), and reiterated state law requiring marriage licenses to be only for opposite-sex couples (already clearly legislated and required by judicial rulings).
While ineffective or, at the most, duplicative on the legislative level, these anti-marriage laws do manifest is an atmosphere of hostility toward gay men and lesbians and the families that they create. Because the laws are unnecessary, they serve only to be vindictive and mean-spirited, affecting the social climate, and, sometimes, the tenor on the streets.
Disturbingly, these anti-marriage laws have been used as legal arguments in courts as proof of legislative intent to deny same-sex couples custody, workplace benefits and registration rights. [See Legislative Reactions to Legal Marriage]