Celebrating an LGBT victory in Washington

November 19, 2009

SEATTLE--Some 200 people came out to Westlake Plaza in downtown Seattle on November 14 to celebrate the historic victory of Referendum 71 on Election Day.

Referendum 71 was a ballot initiative that asked voters whether or not they approve of a domestic partnerships law passed last May by the Washington state government. The domestic partnerships grant same-sex partners the same state benefits and rights as civil marriage, but without calling it marriage.

Thanks to the hard work of many volunteers and activists, Referendum 71 was approved by 53 percent to 47 percent. Support for domestic partnerships was strongest in the urban and liberal areas around Seattle and Puget Sound, but weakest in rural areas and Eastern Washington. A full 80 percent of voters in Seattle voted to approve.

With marriage equality defeated in Maine's Question 1, Referendum 71 marks the first time that same-sex couples have gained or maintained rights that were put up for a popular vote anywhere in the U.S. While demonstrators celebrated this feat and a victory for LGBT rights, everyone was also clear that there are so many rights in so many places that are still denied to LGBT people.

As Stuart Wilber--who is 71 years old, has been with his partner for 32 years and recently marched in Washington, D.C., at the National Equality March--put it, "This election is over, and we won. But now it's time to have a conversation about human rights, equal rights and civil rights--rights that are guaranteed to everyone by the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution."

"I'm tired of waiting," he continued from the rally stage. "I've been waiting my whole life, and I don't have much more time to wait."

In a moving visual display, he was joined on stage by his partner and dozens of other couples who can now receive domestic partnership rights like sharing health benefits, death benefits and hospital visitation rights.

Lt. Dan Choi--a West Point graduate, combat veteran and Arab linguist who was fired from the National Guard under "don't ask, don't tell" after coming out on the Rachel Maddow Show--was the rally's featured speaker. He fired up the crowd, declaring, "I was discharged for saying three simple words: 'I love you.' Now if that's illegal, then give me the death penalty, because I will say it until the day I die!"

Choi went on to address those who would tell LGBT people to wait for their rights. "Some people tell us to be good little gays," he said. "'You have domestic partnerships now. Can't you just be happy?'" The crowd responded with a resounding, "No!" "I am not satisfied," Choi roared back. "We are not satisfied. The era of asking is over! Now is the time to fight...In the face of discrimination, silence is not a strategy--waiting is not a plan."

Josh Castle--a volunteer who mobilized grassroots visibility to Approve 71 with street tablings, bar crawls and freeway overpass sign-waving--summed up the mood of the event: "Let's savor this sweet moment and then get back to work!"

Other speakers at the rally included Ann Levinson and Josh Friedes, leaders of the Approve 71 campaign; Steve Williamson, community affairs director for UFCW Local 21, which donated money and phone-banking space to the campaign in addition to calling all of their 35,000 members; Marsha Botzer, co-chair of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and a member of the National Equality March steering committee; Emily Juhre of University of Washington Students Organizing for LGBT Equality (UW SOLE); Carmen Rivera of the Seattle University Triangle Club; and Eduardo Brambila of SeattleOUTProtest.

The rally was organized by SeattleOUTProtest, Seattle Gay News, UW SOLE, SU Triangle Club, Pride at Work, Join the Impact, Washington Marriage Alliance, and the International Socialist Organization and MC'd by Aleksa Manila, a local drag queen celebrity.

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