Marriage equality supporters on South Whidbey celebrate

This banner hangs above the entrance to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Whidbey Island in Freeland. The multi-religious congregation supported marriage equality for same-sex couples and the approval of Referendum 74.  - Ben Watanabe / The Record
This banner hangs above the entrance to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Whidbey Island in Freeland. The multi-religious congregation supported marriage equality for same-sex couples and the approval of Referendum 74.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

FREELAND — The banner encompassed everything Dennis Reynolds and his Unitarian Universalist Congregation believed in.

The gold and white sign above the entry to the building in Freeland reads: “Standing on the side of love,” with “love” in huge, white letters next to a sketched heart. The Unitarian congregation has been on the side of marriage equality for same-sex couples since the early 2000s, and even for the new minister, Washington voters’ approval of Referendum 74 presented an exciting future.

“I’m looking forward to signing same-sex marriage certificates,” Reynolds said.

Voters approved the measure with a simply majority of 53 percent. Nearly 1.5 million people cast their ballots in favor of allowing same-sex couples to marry.

In Island County, there are now two Republican commissioners and long-time State Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, a Democrat, was voted out of office. Still, the seemingly conservative county comprised of Whidbey and Camano islands supported marriage equality with 52-percent approval — 21,256 votes.

The vote was divided along geographic lines. A total of 1,691 votes separated approval from rejection in Island County. The referendum was rejected by voters in 29 precincts, anchored by North Whidbey precinct 2 (61 percent “no”) and approved by only 19. South Whidbey’s 10 precincts made the difference in approving Ref. 74, bolstered by large margins of victory in Langley, with 79-percent approval.Langley residents Diane Divelbess and Grethe Cammermeyer  supported Ref. 74.

The vote was also an approval of a bill passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Chris Gregoire in February. At that time, the Unitarian congregation in Freeland celebrated the historic signature with singing and a toast.

Even then, the excitement supporters felt was tempered with the anticipation of a referendum. In the weeks leading to election day on Nov. 6, Reynolds said his congregation and others he spoke with in support of approving Ref. 74 were more hopeful than they were nervous.

Election results were solidified last week, but Reynolds said no one has requested a marriage ceremony, which is fine with him.

“I hope people will continue to be as heartfelt in their planning as they would have been,” Reynolds said. “We’ve just opened up the list.

“Marriage has standing that is legislative and legal, but it also has standing that is sacred.”

For all the people who said, “Yes,” to marriage equality, a total of 1,300,519 — nearly half of the state’s voters and more than half of the state geographically — tried to vote down the law.

For Grethe Cammermeyer and Diane Divelbess, partners for 24 years, the right to be lawfully wed by their church was an emotional moment. The Langley couple were married in Oregon years ago before the Supreme Court struck down the law, nullifying their once-legal union. They already had a ceremony — with no legal standing — at St. Augustine’s in-the-Woods Episcopal Church in Freeland.

“We got as close to a church ceremony as was allowed,” Divelbess said.

Cammermeyer and Divelbess shared their stories before the Legislature this year. Television ads in support of Ref. 74 focused less on marriage equality being a civil rights issue and more about the emotional toll through testimonies and personal stories.

“It always helps to have personal stories,” Divelbess said. “The more people that you meet who have come out and you think, ‘Oh gosh, I like those people,’ . . . you see them as workers in the community and nice people, pretty soon you don’t care any more whether they’re gay or straight.”

On Election Day, Divelbess said she tracked the Ref. 74 results online. As ballots were counted and victory seemed near, she saw online pictures of crowds in Seattle celebrating. Their own joy was tempered with the realization that nearly half of voters rejected marriage equality.

“You’re kind of depressed when you see the state map, all those people in all those counties are really disappointed in this election,” Divelbess said.

The Langley couple began planning their wedding shortly after Election Day. Cammermeyer already has a date picked in the summer.

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