Elisabeth Smith, Resident Blogger (’14, University of Washington School of Law)
Thinking about Tuesday makes me a little nauseous. We might reelect President Obama or be treated to another “what if” when he hosts Saturday Night Live in 2018. In Washington State, voters will approve or defeat Marriage Equality and legalize or continue to criminalize marijuana. Both Referendum 74 and Initiative 502 are reproductive justice issues that touch RJ’s meta rights (the right to parent; the right not to parent; and the right to parent the child you have with dignity and free from violence or oppression). Wednesday could be an incredible day or a really, really terrible one. I certainly don’t want to sob my heart out like 2004.
On Thursday night I attended a Referendum 74 debate between Jeff DeGroot, a 3L and comments editor of the University of Washington Law Review, and Joseph Backholm, chairman of Preserve Marriage Washington. Jeff was raised in Oregon by two mothers and he made the point over and over again that his parents are like any other parents. In Jeff’s words, Mr. Backholm only offered distractions. Let me give you a few: marriage equality means (1) parents cannot control their children’s public education; (2) business owners won’t be able to live out their beliefs; and (3) lesbians and gay men in Washington already have all the rights of associated with marriage via domestic partnerships. Jeff’s answers to those assertions were that education decisions are made on a local level with teachers, administrators, and parents; anti-discrimination statutes already prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation; and the word marriage means more than domestic partnership ever could.
If it’s possible to qualify some of the things Mr. Backholm said as the worst, here’s what really made my blood boil: “for all 6,000 years of human history, marriage has been a union between one man and one woman;” “without fathers, children cannot survive and thrive and predictably end up in prison;” and “marriage equality will mean that men dressed as women can use women’s restrooms.” I would like to respond.
First, no. Marriage has looked very different at different times and in different places. Second, yes, fathers are important, but parenthood doesn’t require a penis. Heritage Foundation-inspired horror stories about single motherhood ignore the structural barriers that limit women’s pay and access to childcare. Patriarchy, racism, homophobia, and the criminalization of poverty all play their parts. Also, children raised by lesbian parents seem to fare really well. (Right Jeff?) Third, the rights of transgender people in Washington are protected by the state’s anti-discrimination laws: RCW 29.60.040.26.
Mr. Backholm gave us the kitchen sink argument, but the diversity of his distractions gives us a better vantage point from which to consider his opinion. Marriage equality is foremost about equality. Voting yes on Referendum 74 means that traditional parents like Jeff’s can get married, but it also means that gay men and lesbians who don’t look or act like them can also get married. While Mr. Backholm may consider himself to be better than LGBTQ individuals, their marriages would occupy the same societal position. Marriage equality would limit the privileges we afford to heterosexuals, fathers, gender-conforming, and discrimination. For people who have constructed their identities based on such privileges, the idea of equality must be deeply threatening.
I-502 would allow people 21 and older to legally grow, sell, and buy marijuana. It has been endorsed by Legal Voice and Surge Northwest. Lillian Hewko, a Surge Northwest and an LSRJ board member, wrote about the need for 502, citing the destructive effects of drug laws on women and their children. Who’s using marijuana? In 2011, 7.8% of women 18 and older used marijuana. Who’s arrested and prosecuted for marijuana offenses though? Predominantly people of color. Legalizing marijuana will halt Washington’s racialized arrests and prosecutions, thereby allowing families to remain intact and protecting women from the dangers of incarceration.
I voted for President Obama and for Referendum 74 and for Initiative 502. I’m hoping that on Tuesday Washington State announces to the world that equality trumps privilege.