News The Bob Oke Bridge: Will Gays and Lesbians Be Allowed to Drive Over It?
posted by January 16 at 16:15 PMon
On Friday January 27, 2006, the Washington state legislature passed a comprehensive gay rights bill—after 29 years of struggle—that banned discrimination against gays and lesbians in housing, employment, and public accommodation, and credit.
The bill was controversial, of course, and Washington state’s religious bigots were in an uproar. So the galleries were packed when the Senate voted on the final version of the bill that Friday afternoon. According to a Seattle Times reporter, “activity in the Capitol all but halted” while the senators debated the bill. With all eyes on the Senate, State Senator Bob Oke (R-Port Orchard) delivered a speech that shocked the gay rights supporters. Here’s the Seattle Times’ account:
Sen. Bob Oke, R-Port Orchard, gave one of the most gripping speeches, talking to fellow senators about his daughter.
“Having a child who chooses to be homosexual is very painful. I know this because my daughter has chosen the life of a lesbian,” Oke said. “From the very first day she shared with me what her lifestyle was, she has been trying to change me. And I, quite frankly, have been trying to change her.”
Oke said his daughter called a while back and asked to come visit, bringing her partner. “There was a long hesitation on my part and I said, ‘I can’t have that,’ ” he said. “That’s called tough love.”
With the cameras on him, Oke held up a large, framed photograph of the woman he’d just outed—a daughter he refused to accept, a woman whose partner he refused to allow in home—to help make his point. His daughter, Oke continued, wasn’t “right in God’s eyes.” Wow. Father of the year.
“It was incredible sad,” says George Cheung, a founding board member of Equal Rights Washington, who was in a Senate gallery during Oke’s speech. “The hope is that as people will become more accepting of LGBT people when people close to them come out. But that wasn’t true in this case. He turned away his own daughterís partner. It was just so tragic and so last century.”
ďIt was one of the most demoralizing statements Iíve ever heard from another member during my years in Olympia,” says State Sen. Ed Murray. “I donít know his daughter, but I was worried about how any child would react to a parent calling them immoral and showing her picture on the Senate floor like that.”
“I was sitting in the gallery and it was horrific,” says State Representative Jamie Pedersen. “Here’s this guy who was dying of cancer and he’s bragging about how he’s showing character by not letting his daughter come home with her partner. And you think about how misguided and sad that is. That he would cut himself off from his family like that in his final moments.”
Oke died of cancer in May of 2007. And now a Democratic member of the legislature—State Senator Ken Jacobsen—is pushing a “memorial resolution” that would rename the new Tacoma Narrows Bridge in honor of Bob Oke. State Sen. Ken Jacobsen is a Democrat who represents Seattle’s 46th District in the Senate.
I’ve got a call in to Jacobsen’s office. I want to ask the Seattle Dem this: If the bridge is named for Bob Oke, will Washington state’s gays and lesbians be allowed to drive over it?
If the memorial resolution is approved by the Senate it passes to the house, where it might encounter some resistance.
“I would not support naming the new Tacoma Narrows Bridge for Bob Oke,” says Jamie Pedersen, one of four openly gay members of the Washington State House of Representatives.