We are seated in a Canadian theater named for an English queen, absorbed in an opera about an American sailor and a Japanese lover, written by an Italian and featuring a Chinese...

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VANCOUVER, B.C. — We are seated in a Canadian theater named for an English queen, absorbed in an opera about an American sailor and a Japanese lover, written by an Italian and featuring a Chinese diva.

The following morning, we awake to The Vancouver Sun’s coverage of a Canadian Supreme Court decision endorsing same-sex marriage, followed by a story telling readers that the federal Liberal Party plans to pass a law legalizing same-sex marriages.

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The Supreme Court ruling was unanimous and the ruling Liberals seem to have public support (although maybe not 50 percent) on their side. British Columbia legalized same-sex marriage in 2003 and to date over 1,700 ceremonies have been performed.

Digesting this news and a hearty Canadian breakfast, we stroll on Denman Street, where I count no fewer than 17 different nationalities of food establishments in just four blocks.

Vancouver is one of the four cities that I think of when I think of the particular quality of life that exists on what conservative pundits now sarcastically refer to as “the Left Coast.” The others are Seattle, Portland and San Francisco.

There is a decidedly liberal political climate in all of these cities, and to the extent that they influence life in their hinterlands, these states (and province) tend to show up blue on the ubiquitous red-blue maps that are all the rage these days.

The definition of liberal, according to my dictionary, is nonpartisan. A classic liberal is “one who favors progress or reform,” or is “free from prejudice, tolerant “… and so forth. No mention of George W. Bush. Liberals should want to be identified by what they are for, not whom they are against.

It has always seemed to me that the classic liberal is marked by a willingness to tolerate other views or lifestyles, and keep an open mind. And, yes, many people who call themselves liberal don’t always fit that description!

Liberalism in this sense seems almost inevitable in the four “Left Coast” cities because of their proximity to the sea, which brings with it ideas and people from afar, and which has always lured the adventurous.

Vancouver is one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world, with a population now over 50 percent of Asian heritage (from many lands), and a religious mix that includes all the world’s major faiths. Somehow, it seems to work here, despite inevitable tensions and the problems of big-city life.

That’s due to tolerance, a bedrock value of classic liberalism. One finds much the same in Seattle, Portland and San Francisco. The necessity of living with diverse neighbors, going to work and school with people of other religions, colors and histories, opens one’s eyes to a world beyond that of our own kith and kin.

We are products of our families, our education and religion, but also of our geographic surroundings. It is no accident that the most “liberal” of the American states and cities are on the two coasts.

I thought of that the other day as I encountered a fellow North Dakotan, who, like my family, escaped the howling snow to reach the Left Coast.

We both now live about 20 miles south of the Canadian border. I was born about 20 miles south of the Canadian border. But there is a world between the two locations. When I drive north to Vancouver, I enter a microcosm of… the world. Had I stayed in Dakota, the same drive would bring me to … more snow-covered fields.

Has my political philosophy been shaped by that move, many years ago? I don’t see how it could be otherwise. Former Midwesterners always keep something of the prairies within us, but whether we — or our forebears — chose to move to the Southwest or the Northwest must be a factor in how we now see ourselves.

Certainly, that must be true of any American transplanting himself or herself from one region to another. We take on the trappings of our new home, and in the case of this region, we breathe the winds from Asia and other parts of the world that waft into our little corner because we are on the sea and the sea blows winds of change and cultural differences.

We cannot expect the rest of the country to see things exactly as we see them on the “Left Coast,” because most don’t live near the sea and all it means in so many ways. Neither should we apologize for who we are.


Floyd J. McKay, a journalism professor emeritus at Western Washington University, is a regular contributor to Times editorial pages. E-mail him at floydmckay@yahoo.com