Photo by Ryan Leisinger

About 1,000 people, many arriving by the yellow busload from corners of the state, are rallying on the steps of the state Capitol Building to protest gay rights. At issue is a domestic partnership bill, which would provide all the state-granted benefits of marriage to registered same-sex couples. Backers of the “Stand Up for Marriage Rally,” the Washington Values Alliance, call the legislation “a mockery … of society's most vital institution.”

“I think the rally is probably more of an attempt by certain organizations to find a reason for being, to fill their own coffers and keep their own organization going,” says Senator Ed Murray, sponsor of the domestic partnership bill in the senate. The DP bill passed the senate last week by 30 to 18 votes; now it is in the house where the bill has more cosponsors than votes needed to pass—i.e., the bill is going to win regardless of the shrill cries on the Capitol steps. Murray adds, “They are down in polls and down in the legislature. It is not a happy time for them.”

17e3/1237502380-murray_at_marriage_rally.jpgThe crowd is almost exclusively white—including many Eastern Europeans—according sources monitoring the rally from a distance. One glaring exception is African American Pastor Ken Hutcherson, head of the Antioch Bible Church. Joined by conservative state legislators including Senator Pam Roach (R-31) and Representative Matt Shea (R-4), Hutchersons’s and other speakers' rhetoric has rested largely on arguments that same-sex marriage breaks down the notion that women must be subservient to men.

Photo of Ed Murray in front of the crowd by Katie Kolen

While disempowered, the crowd today outnumbers the crowd on the Capitol steps last week for Marriage Equality Day, says Josh Friedes, a spokesman for Equal Rights Washington, a group that supports the bill and organized last week’s event. Nonetheless, he dismisses the larger turnout. “The gay-rights movement is like an iceberg, because you can only see its tip. But the radical right is like an inverse iceberg where these days you can see most of its power,” he says. Anything short of turning out several thousand people, like anti-gay groups did several years ago for a rally at Safeco Field, “they have failed,” Friedes says.

In an email to potential rally-goers titled "It ain't over until its over," Larry Stickney, head of the Washington Values Alliance, told his flock: "Pastors, priests, church leaders and ministers of the faith should encourage and lead entire congregations to attend this rally. Busses [sic] should be chartered from every corner of our state." He adds, “We need YOU and others like you to stand with us as we continue to tell our legislators and the Governor to vote NO on the ill-conceived plan to legalize homosexual marriage.” WVA never concedes the bill is about domestic partnership legislation, not marriage.

“What they are trying to say is if you vote for this bill we will try to get you in November and look how strong we are,” says Friedes. “I don’t think they have that kind of strength to affect candidate election outcomes.” But, he notes, anti-gay-marriage sentiment may be strong enough to pass an initiative or referendum banning gay marriage.