MIKE BAKER | Associated Press
OLYMPIA, Wash. — Rachel Smith-Mosel and her partner have been married in California, where she was born. And they’ve been married in Canada, where her spouse was born. And they’ve been married at a Jewish summer camp, where they had support of their faith community.
But what the couple really wants is to be officially married in Washington, where they work, live and raise five children.
Smith-Mosel, 38, said the state’s domestic partnership laws are insufficient, failing to provide the couple the proper benefits and protections that come with marriage. She said it’s now time for Washington to follow the lead of states like New York and recognize gay couples in marriage.
“My family needs it yesterday,” said Smith-Mosel, a middle school teacher in Tacoma. “I’m impatient, and I’m tired of waiting.”
The yearning for marriage among gay couples and their supporters has been growing along with their public ranks. New Census data last week illustrates a surge in households led by declared same-sex partners across the state, growing by more than 50 percent and expanding in areas outside of urban centers during the past decade.
• More than 24,000 households in Washington are led by same-sex partners.
• In Jefferson County on the Olympic Peninsula and in San Juan County, comprising most of its namesake islands, more than one out of every 50 couples is same-sex.
• Seattle shows that 3 percent of couples are male partners and more than 2 percent are female partners. The number of same-sex couples in King County grew by 37 percent over the decade, slower than the state as a whole.
• Nearly one-quarter of same-sex couples lead a household with children.
Garfield County in southeastern Washington, the least populous county in the state with 2,266 people, had the lowest number of households led by a same-sex couple — with one.
Activists and lawmakers are currently strategizing how and when to best push the issue. Democratic state Sen. Ed Murray, who has consistently filed bills to approve gay marriages since 1997, said the Senate does not have the votes right now to get it approved in 2012. He hopes that will change and isn’t ruling out success in the coming session of the Legislature.
Murray, who has been with his partner for 20 years as of this coming week, also said supporters need to ensure that the law will stand, even if it faces a referendum challenge. He doesn’t believe it would have survived four years ago, when the domestic partnerships law passed, but he does think things are changing.
“Personally, it gets old. Politically, I think we’re on the right road,” Murray said. “This isn’t going to take many years. It’s going to take a few years.”
Both sides of the gay marriage debate claim that public opinion is on their side.
Gary Randall, president of the Bellevue-based Faith and Freedom Network, said he doesn’t think there’s a race toward gay marriage like supporters of the effort would like people to believe. He also thinks that people who want to keep marriage between one man and one woman will come off the sidelines to voice their opinions.
Randall said groups are also having discussions about the best way to educate the public about their arguments — namely that the Bible doesn’t condone gay marriage and that redefining marriage could eventually lead to condoned polygamy.
“I don’t think they’re ready to approve gay marriage,” Randall said.
Josh Friedes, director of marriage equality at Seattle-based advocacy group Equal Rights Washington, said gay marriage proponents need to focus on increasing social acceptance. That means educating people about the marriage benefits that aren’t extended to domestic partners, such as tax benefits or health insurance coverage. He also wants to demonstrate to the public that it’s a matter of dignity for couples who want the state to recognize their relationships equally.
Smith-Mosel carries around a folder of documents detailing her family’s relationships, worried that during a medical crisis or some other problem they will face questions and lack the same protections as officially recognized spouses.
“Our kids need to feel that our family isn’t just second-class,” Smith-Mosel said. “We’re a married couple, and we want to be treated as such. We deserve to be treated as such.”