In 32 States We the People of the United States have managed to bring the issue of traditional marriage to a vote. So far we’re batting 1000. But if a State exists in the USA where same-sex-marriage might win approval from a majority of the voters, that electorate is out west in Washington.
The culture of death has shown extraordinary popular support in the Evergreen State, as demonstrated in initiative and referendum campaigns. In November 1998 partial-birth-abortion made the ballot, but voters rejected the ban on this procedure, 57 to 43%. A decade later (2008) assisted suicide secured 58% approval from WA voters. And now we are at the half way point in a referendum campaign to decide the issue of “same-sex-marriage” (hereafter abbreviated SSM).
Ours is the least churched State in the Union. Why look to Washingtonians for support when so many people here are in the grip of paganism? Well, because last winter, the legislature and our “Catholic” Governor redefined marriage to conform with the gay agenda. Patriotic Christians are therefore pushed politically to the point of last resort.
I suppose we could have settled for the loss on pragmatic grounds, rather than risk becoming the first State to approve SSM by popular vote. Admittedly, if we lose in November it will hurt the cause of traditional marriage nationally. But as John Paul Jones stated during the American Revolution, “He who will not risk, cannot win.”
Actually I’ve heard no serious arguments here against putting up a fight and making what may or may not prove to be a losing stand. Nor, in my view, would submitting to the legislature’s folly accord with the cardinal virtue of fortitude. Better to go down fighting like the brave Texans at the Alamo in 1836. As Jim Manning, one of our local Catholic activists, put it: “Only God can definitely know what the consequence will be.”
Let me proceed, then, to a blow by blow account of the first half of the 2012 marriage war in Washington State. As a leader in our Catholic Action Committee (council 1379) of the Knights of Columbus I was well situated to witness the combat up close.
The gay lobby has been laboring methodically in the halls of the State capitol in Olympia for a number of years. In 2009 they secured a major victory with a massive amending of State law so that every right, privilege and prohibition heretofore applied to married couples would apply equally to same-sex civil unions.
Fearing that the new legislation was a setup for a State court to mandate SSM (which may still be in the offing if traditionalists win in November) we ran a referendum campaign under longtime conservative leader, Larry Stickney. If successful, Referendum 71 would have nullified the pro-gay legislation. Despite being outspent by a margin of as much as thirty to one,* we secured 137,881 signatures and came close to winning at the ballot box.
In the November 2009 election, the citizens voted with us in 31 of the 39 WA counties, but the eight counties that went the other way included the big urban population centers of the Puget Sound region, chiefly Seattle. (It would make for an interesting study as to why big cities, especially seaports, are more amenable to the culture of death – but that’s another story).
In the final tally we fell short with 47% of the popular vote, as against 53% to uphold the legislation.** In ten formal debates across the State my opponents never tired of the refrain that the new legislation was not about marriage but about equality of rights.
Now, after less than three years, they’ve thrown off the pretense and are trying to get the whole enchilada, i.e. official State marriage certificates for same-sex couples. Their hopes are running high. If they win, Adam and Steve will be able to “marry” here.
In Olympia the legislation was initiated in the senate (SB 6239) and hearings held on January 23rd. On behalf of the Knights of Columbus I presented a written testimony to the pertinent senate committee, and Archbishop Peter Sartin of Seattle came to Olympia and addressed the committee. Alas, his thoughtful testimony was disregarded. So was Dr. Jennifer Roback’s impressive presentation. The committee gave traditionalists a token hearing and then approved SSM and referred it to the full senate.
On 1 February the bill passed the senate, 28 to 21, but not without a demonstration by the Knights of Columbus, well covered by the press. We carried several of the banners pictured below.
When the bill was taken up in the House of Representatives (Feb. 8th) the Knights of Columbus were again in the vanguard of dissent. We greeted the moment of House passage with banners prominently displayed and with our boos resounding through the rotunda. The bill then advanced to the desk of Gov. Christine (O’Grady) Gregoire.
Despite being raised as a Roman Catholic, Gov. Gregoire had chosen to defy the Church’s moral teaching and had lobbied legislators in favor of SSM. She was actually a parishioner (rarely attending, I’m told) at St. Michael Church in Olympia where I myself graduated long ago from the affiliated parochial school. Thus I felt a more personal necessity to protest her position, and I was glad to lead the KC contingent into the capitol building during the bill signing ceremony. Once again we got considerable press coverage – more so after I was detained, questioned, and publicly expelled by State troopers.
It happened like this. When our KC group arrived we found ourselves among perhaps a thousand SSM supporters who had surged into the rotunda of the capitol building. Our original plan was to stand with our banners in the passageway outside the capitol reception room where Gregoire would be signing the SSM law. But this proved impossible, given that people were packed shoulder-to-shoulder in the passageway and would not let us through. There’s no displaying in the midst of a crowd like that anyway when the rules ban the use of polls to support the banners. And so we had to improvise.
I directed our people to the 3rd floor where they hand-held our five foot long banners for the spectators and media to see, given that the crowd was sparser there. Meanwhile, I went alone carrying the 18 x 24 inch placard (pictured below) and attempted to reach the reception room. But the crowd was impervious to my pleas. It was about like trying to run a play off tackle against an eleven man NFL defensive line.So I tried another approach. Holding up my press pass, I kept announcing “press, press.” Lo and behold, like the parting of the Red Sea, they let me through. Everyone has, no doubt, heard about the power of the press generally, but this newfound power of a press pass was quite a surprise.
I soon found myself at the doorway to the reception room, which was packed solid with standing SSM supporters, legislators and media. A burly State trooper inspected my press pass and admitted me to the room, but he made me leave the placard behind.
Now what? Here I was like a sardine packed in with homosexuals in a high state of excitement, who could not have looked kindly on my views. I had no sign to display, and no strategy. Then a man named Roger spotted me; he edged through the crowd to introduce himself as one of my opponents in a televised R-71 debate back in 2009. Roger indicated some surprise at my presence in such an assembly. Indeed I myself was rather taken aback, as I had become completely closed in by a mass of people with retreat to the exit no easy matter.
The Governor and her entourage had yet to arrive, and so I had time to take refuge in what St. Theresa of Avila terms The Interior Castle, where I proceeded to pray and arrive at a plan. I figured that the Lord must have put me in this situation for some reason other than to be made despondent by a sordid celebration. Ezekiel 3:18-21 came to mind with its admonition that we should speak out to dissuade a person from wicked conduct lest our silence cause us to share in the guilt. Since Gov. Gregoire and I were each St. Michael parishioners at one time, I realized that it was my spiritual duty, if opportunity presented itself, to offer her a warning.
And so to countermand the worries arising in my mind about decorum, etc., I thought of Edmund Burke’s oft quoted maxim, “there is a point at which forbearance ceases to be a virtue.” Still uncertain, I fleeced the Lord for a chance to confront her before she signed. To shout out after she signed might be pointless, I reasoned. Also, I wanted to avoid interrupting her address or getting overpowered by the microphone or being drowned out by the crowd noise. In the meantime I took the precaution of pocketing my glasses just in case someone smacked me in the face for sabotaging the merriment.
Well my opportunity did come. A teary-eyed Gov. Gregoire was delivering her speech about 20 feet directly in front of me. After concluding her remarks she began moving away from the microphone and approaching the table where the bill awaited her signature. There was an interval of hushed silence as the crowd anticipated the moment of triumph. I cupped my hands and bellowed, “Do not betray Christ. Do not betray ….” Suddenly a cacophony of jeers, and of cheers for their darling Governor, obliterated my last word, “America.” The crowd then fell silent, whereupon I shouted, “Be forewarned.”
Amid another din of jeers I began moving for the exit when a State trooper took me by the elbow. Fortunately as he pulled me out of the room he let me retrieve the placard I’d left by the doorway. The lieutenant in charge arrived within seconds. He was built like Ray Nitschke, and he ordered me to stand with my back to a wall, allowing me to display our placard quite prominently. The commotion was attracting a lot of attention from spectators.
With four or so State troopers attending to me, I expected at any moment to be handcuffed and arrested. My first words to the lieutenant were, “free speech.” “No,” said he, “you interrupted the Governor.” “No,” I replied, “she had stepped away from the microphone and I chose a moment of silence to issue a forewarning as my Catholic faith requires me to do.” Wearing my Knights of Columbus badge as I did, may have added some credibility to my claim.
My interrogator’s demeanor calmed noticeably, and he asked for my driver’s license. He then gave me a warning, banned me from the building for the day, and ordered one of his deputies to escort me to the exit. In my escorted walk through the rotunda area, I held up our placard for the large crowd watching. Outside on the steps, reporters from the Associated Press and from the local affiliate of National Public Radio sought interviews. Both the AP report about the incident, and the NPR report, were reasonably fair and accurate. Meanwhile our people upstairs got effective sound bites on Channel 13, the Fox News affiliate.
This finale to the three demonstrations by the Knights of Columbus in Olympia impacted the cause far more favorably than would have been the case had we bowed to a personal plea by Rep. Brad Klippert of Tri-Cities. Rep. Klippert had urged us to sit in the legislative galleries during the SSM vote. In the galleries, however, we could not have spoken up nor displayed our banners. I explained to him that the KC’s had discussed our rationale for traveling to Olympia, and that our purpose was to be “a sign of contradiction” as per Luke 2:34, not to lobby politicians who had already made up their minds.
Thus, the Knights of Columbus fired the opening salvo in the marriage war of 2012. After the confrontation with the Governor we gathered in an Olympia restaurant to debrief. All agreed that our demonstrating – our sign of contradiction – was “a form of prayer.”
On the same day, February 13th, Preserve Marriage Washington, backed by the National Organization for Marriage, filed the forms required to launch Referendum 74. Under State law R-74 had to meet a formidable deadline. By the time the State negotiated and approved the format for the petitions, we had about ten weeks to get nearly 121,000 signatures and put the new SSM law on hold. It would then go to the people for approval or rejection in the November election.
Much to the chagrin of enthusiasts for the gay agenda, we doubled the requirement and submitted 247,311 signatures before the June 6 deadline. Thus, R-74 sets the record for the most signatures in a referendum since WA achieved Statehood in 1889. Only about a tenth of the total came via paid signature gatherers; the rest was the work of volunteers.
Churches were the backbone of the campaign, and in WA State’s three Catholic dioceses all the Bishops gave strong support. Also they authorized R-74 signature gathering inside the Church vestibules and parish halls – subject, however, to the local pastor’s permission.
Most Catholic pastors were on board, but in Port Townsend the pastor, Fr. John Topel, S.J., took a lot of heat from the surrounding community which is largely pagan. After getting Fr. Topel’s permission, KC Council 10532 set up tables with R-74 petitions to sign in the parish hall. But on April 15th an incident disrupted the local campaign.
After a Sunday Mass, a gay couple physically restrained a female parishioner from signing the petition. Knights sprang to their feet, and old fashioned chivalry came into play. One knight threatened to punch somebody’s lights out if the gays did not unhand the woman, whereupon one of the gays threw up his arms and began screeching, “Don’t touch me!” Port Townsend’s liberal daily newspaper, the Leader, neglected to give the public any meaningful information about the assault on the lady, who was exercising her right and responsibility as a citizen. Instead the article in the Leader focused on R-74 opponents picketing outside the church. Thereafter Fr. Topel decided to limit the petition gathering to the privacy of his residence.
In our own parish, Our Lady Star of the Sea, signature gathering was enthusiastically received and uneventful. Our affiliated KC council in Bremerton gathered c. 1000 signatures in the vestibule, the parish hall, and on the sidewalk outside.
A notable feature of the record-setting campaign was the informal coalition between Evangelicals and Catholics. On May 31st, the Kitsap County affiliate of Preserve MarriageWashington held a community prayer meeting in thanksgiving for the successful campaign. Prayers included particular reference to the way denominational barriers were being crossed in the common effort.
A week later the same group sponsored a celebration party in an Evangelical Church in Poulsbo. Joseph Backholm, a Protestant who occasionally writes for Catholic Lane, and most notably the head of Preserve Marriage Washington, gave a rousing speech. And one of the presiding pastors showed us a video, Test of Fire: Election 2012 – the three minute Catholic production which is going viral on the internet. In response to the video, a lady was applauded when she proclaimed, “We’re all Catholics now!”
Thus ended the remarkable signature gathering phase of our campaign. It remains to be seen whether our efforts will be sucked down into the political black hole of Seattle, as was R-71 in the November election of 2009. By the grace of God and a good second half, let the righteousness inherent in R-74 prevail this year at the polls.
* source: Email dated 6/13/2012 from Larry Stickney re the R-71 campaign: “As I recall, they spent close to 3 million to our 100K. In total, we raised about 350K, but 250K was in-kind from the James Bopp law firm for all of our court battles!”
** See my previous article examining the Nov. 2009 election, comparing and contrasting the votes in Maine and Washington State.