South End celebrates marriage equality

Beth Stout and her partner Lisa Toomey raise a cup of sparkling cider to toast Gov. Chris Gregoire’s signature of the gay marriage law on Monday. - Ben Watanabe / The Record
Beth Stout and her partner Lisa Toomey raise a cup of sparkling cider to toast Gov. Chris Gregoire’s signature of the gay marriage law on Monday.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

FREELAND — There were plenty of cheers and a few tears at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Whidbey Island on Monday night. More than 40 people celebrated Gov. Chris Gregoire’s signing of the gay marriage bill into law with laughter, hugs, a few raised cups and a few songs.

The governor’s signature marked the end of a prolonged fight for gay marriage supporters.

“This has been an issue for my church for a long time,” said the Rev. Kit Ketcham.

A couple of organizations set up the celebration; Ketcham with the Universalists, and Cyn Vecker of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. Together they hosted the assembly of congregation members, community folks and other supporters who were there to mark the historic day when Washington state moved to support marriage equality and became the seventh state in the nation to bestow such civil rights on its residents.

Vecker was at the capitol building in Olympia earlier that day to witness Gregoire’s signature ceremony and called the crowd “electric” and “ecstatic.”

“People were jumping for joy,” she said. “Lots of kisses. I didn’t see a single opponent.”

“It was more packed than I’ve ever seen the Capitol.”

Vecker wasn’t the only South Whidbey resident in Olympia on Monday. Greenbank resident Lisa Toomey was there for Nurse’s Legislation Day, and chose to stay for the historic ceremony.

Toomey, her partner Beth Stout and their three children — Cameron, Sean and Maya — were at the Unitarians’ hall in Freeland for the camaraderie of the night, and to exhale after years of worry.

“My partner and I have been together for 16 years,” Toomey said. “We have 10-year-old twins, a 12-year-old; we’ve been campaigning for human rights for years. This is core to everything we believe in.”

“We’ve done everything we can to protect our children,” she added. “I don’t want our children to grow up and think we’re different. Now they won’t have to.”

The Greenbank couple will have to wait for marriage, though, as the law changes June 7. And that’s if the legislation survives.

An official from the Pride Foundation addressed those concerns about a possible referendum to repeal the law that was filed the same night.

“It depends how they (Referendum 73 supporters) get organized,” said Jody Waits, director of community giving at the Pride Foundation.

“There is a possibility the votes are gathered and certified so quickly that marriage never happens.”

Concerns that the law may be wiped out before it even takes effect led the group to consider countering any opposition with their personal love stories.

Waits urged people to relate to their neighbors and co-workers on a relational level — and not on moral or civil rights grounds — about gay rights.

One attendee who said his name was Gabby stood and addressed the crowd with his “10-second speech.” He said he would relate to the person about how he found a second chance at true love, and to ask others about their experiences in marriage.

“I would say, ‘What did you promise? To love. To obey. To cherish,’” he said and paused to gather himself from crying. “‘I promised those things. You promised those things.’ That is my 10-second speech.”

Several speakers praised state Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, who cast the deciding vote in the Senate to guarantee passage of the marriage equality law. Toomey met with Haugen on Monday about healthcare legislation, but also to thank her for voting for gay marriage.

“I’m so proud of her,” Toomey said.

Vecker and Ketcham also saluted Haugen’s bravery for sticking with her conscience. Ketcham was at a town hall with the senator last month and asked about marriage equality, which sparked Haugen’s personal yet public struggle with the vote.

The congregation leader and the support group organizer both said the perception of homosexuality has changed over time. However, they both acknowledged there are people and groups who will continue their opposition of gay couples’ right to marriage.

“Public acceptance has grown exponentially this generation,” Ketcham said. “I don’t think the die-hard religious folk will ever give in.”

“I’ve learned not to try to argue people out of this,” Ketcham added. “What changes people is them meeting people who are gay, who have brothers who are gay, sisters who are gay.”

The night ended with an unaccompanied rendition of “We Shall Overcome,” with the crowd softly singing the refrain, “We shall overcome, someday.”

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