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Washington gay couples await legal marriage: 'We've got to thank all the straight people'
After 38 years together, Sue Huff and Donna Caldwell will tie the knot.
"We can finally make it official," said Huff, who met Caldwell in college when both women were in their early 20s. "We've always been committed and always will be."
The couple will wed Dec. 15 at Wayside United Church of Christ in Federal Way. This marks the church's first legal same-sex marriage.
Huff and Caldwell felt relief upon learning that Referendum 74 — which asked Washington voters to approve or reject same-sex marriage — passed with nearly 54 percent in November election. The bill goes into effect Dec. 6.
The couple wish to thank Wayside church, as well as one key voting demographic, for making their marriage possible in Washington.
"We've got to thank all the straight people," Caldwell said.
In February 2012, same-sex marriage was legalized in Washington when Gov. Chris Gregoire signed Senate Bill 6239 into law. Two days later, Preserve Marriage Washington submitted more than 200,000 signatures to block the legislation and send it to a public vote on the November ballot.
Wayside church performed civil unions and supported the gay community years before Washington voters approved same-sex marriage.
"Equality of marriage is something I've been in favor of for a long time," said the Rev. Dennis Hollinger-Lant. The Wayside pastor's position comes from following his conscience and doing what he feels is right, he said. Hollinger-Lant understands that others in the faith community disagree with his church's acceptance of same-sex marriage.
"God created all of us," said Hollinger-Lant. "I don't think people choose to be gay. They find themselves that way. Why not extend civil rights to everyone?"
Both Huff and Caldwell admit that despite being openly gay and in a relationship for 38 years, they remain "closeted" around some relatives who love them, but don't approve.
"The younger generation seems more 'live and let live' and they're not afraid," Huff said. "It's not only the rights of marriage, but it's the responsibilities, and that's part of being a good citizen."
On Dec. 6, two couples from Federal Way will travel to the King County Recorder's Office to receive their marriage licenses.
Together more than 12 years, Rachel and Sandy Smith-Mosel have been married three times: once in Sandy's native country of Canada, once in Rachel's native state of California, and once in a ceremony by their rabbi.
This fall, the couple appeared in TV commercials in support of Referendum 74. They were also in Olympia last February when Gov. Gregoire signed the legislation.
In the months leading up to the November election, the reality of Referendum 74 hit close to home.
"Everyone around you is voting on the validity of your family. That's such an intimate, critical relationship in your life," said Rachel Smith-Mosel, whose family volunteered with her in "phone bank" sessions to rally potential voters before the election. "It was incredibly emotional."
The couple, with five children by their side, will make their marriage official in Washington next week.
"It means everything," Rachel Smith-Mosel said. "It's so validating."
Joining them will be fellow Federal Way residents Geoffery and Devin McAnalloy, who have been together nearly 14 years.
The McAnalloys, both 48, will bring their three adopted children — all biological brothers. The men plan to hold an official ceremony next summer for family.
In the meantime, the McAnalloys will await reform at the federal level. The federal government does not recognize same-sex marriage, which means same-sex couples are denied federal benefits such as Social Security. U.S. Supreme Court justices are expected to decide this week to rule on whether gays and lesbians have a constitutional right to marry.
"At least in the state of Washington, we're on equal footing," Geoffery McAnalloy said. "I'm really proud of our state."
In addition to Washington, Maryland and Maine voters approved similar measures in November, bringing the total number of states that recognize same-sex marriage to eight. Six more states, along with the District of Columbia, recognize civil unions and domestic partnerships.
On the contrary, 31 states have amended their constitutions to prevent same-sex marriage.
Pastor Ken Hutcherson, co-founder of the Antioch Bible Church in Redmond, was among the leading public opponents of same-sex marriage in Washington. After the election, Hutcherson blamed the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) for not sticking to "biblical principles" when trying to rally conservative voters to reject Referendum 74. NOM pumped nearly $5.5 million to oppose same-sex marriage ballot measures in four states.
Several newspapers in Washington state endorsed Referendum 74, and Washington United for Marriage raised more than $9.4 million to help pass the measure.
• All domestic partnerships in Washington state will be automatically converted to marriages by June 30, 2014.
• Washington will recognize same-sex marriages from other states. Civil unions and domestic partnerships from other states have up to one year before Washington no longer recognizes them. Same-sex couples who marry in Washington do not qualify for legal benefits of marriage in states that do not recognize same-sex marriage.
• King County Executive Dow Constantine will sign marriage licenses starting at 12:01 a.m. Dec. 6 at the Recorder's Office at 500 Fourth Avenue in Seattle. A marriage application can be downloaded at www.kingcounty.gov/marriage.