Vancouver Weighs In on Same-Sex Marriage Legislation

By Daniel Borgen, PQ Monthly


Kelly Keigwin and her partner Sam MacKenzie are both Vancouver-based artists. Photo by Anni Becker.

Washington state lawmakers voted to approve gay marriage on Feb. 8, setting the stage for our neighbor to the north to become the seventh state in the country to grant same-sex couples marriage equality.

The vote came one day after a landmark court ruling in California that struck down that state’s ban on same-sex marriage, Prop 8.

Washington’s new law is modeled after similar legislation in New York and allows exceptions for churches and religious groups who do not wish to perform same-sex marriages or open their facilities to gay and lesbian couples.

Over the last decade or so, Washington has steadily expanded rights for gay and lesbian couples; it was once one of 30 states that have laws on the books defining marriage as being between one man and one woman. The state approved rights for domestic partners in 2007 and in 2009 passed a bill routinely referred to as everything-but-marriage legislation. Even though the new law likely won’t take immediate effect — opponents can gather 120,000 signatures and put the issue of same-sex marriage to a public referendum — the Washington vote adds a certain measure of inevitability to the question of gay marriage.

And despite the probability of a referendum going to voters, momentum builds, and questions of “if” are replaced with questions of “when.”

As same-sex marriage inches closer to reality, news outlets have covered not only the steady march to equality, but the potential economic boon associated with granting gay and lesbian couples marriage rights. We at PQ really wanted, for now, to simply gauge local reaction, so we talked to some Vancouver residents to get their take on recent developments. Because, let’s face it, who thought Vancouver would see marriage equality before Portland? Below is a sample of local perspective.

“I could be a bit sheltered, but it seems to me most people think it should — and will — happen,” said Carrie Winters, owner of Moe’s Barbershop, a downtown staple and hub of activity and community. “There is also a silence about it because I believe most people have accepted it as inevitable. I also want the fight against gay marriage to start raising questions as to why opponents believe they have the luxury to fight over ideas rather than fight the issues that are happening right now. Why are opponents spending time and resources to fight gay marriage when there are people suffering and in need of help? Why is the Mormon Church spending time and resources to fight gay marriage instead of, say, feeding the poor? Call me crazy, but I think all these gay marriage opponents talking about ‘values’ should be more concerned with current economic conditions and human suffering — the mentally ill, the elderly, the homeless.”

Claire Ghormley, who’s owned and operated a variety of small businesses in the downtown area, had this to say: “What surprised me most has been my family’s reaction. I come from a Catholic family and my immediate family has been highly supportive of marriage equality.”

Kelly Keigwin and her partner, Sam Mackenzie, are both local artists who’ve had their work shown at a variety of galleries and venues. Keigwin, presently showing at Angst Gallery, offered this: “I feel fortunate to live in a state where change is happening and we, along with many other couples we know, may have the opportunity to marry if we continue to gain momentum and support for the probably November ballot box. I think it’s wonderful that so many politicians have spoken out about equality and see this as a civil rights issue, rather than a religious one. To see people crossing party lines to do the right thing makes me proud to live in this state.”

“My initial reaction was to start planning our wedding and to join in the celebration with our friends and family,” Keigwin added. “Unfortunately, the reality of the referendum possibly being placed on the November ballot has made me a little angry that our rights — granted to us by our government — might be taken away by a popular vote. But I do have faith in Washington as a progressive state that believes in equal rights. We remain optimistic that Washington voters will do the right thing.”

Stay with PQ Monthly for more on this story as developments warrant, along with profiles of couples and their wedding plans.