In most cases, lawmakers' votes on gay marriage aligned with their districts' votes on Referendum 71.
OLYMPIA — To understand the no vote cast on same-sex marriage by state Rep. Steve Kirby, a Tacoma lawmaker who usually sides with his fellow Democrats, look at how the people in his district voted in 2009 on the successful referendum giving gay couples “everything but marriage.”
In its new shape after post-census redistricting, Kirby’s diverse South Tacoma and east Lakewood district still leans heavily to the Democrats. But within its boundaries, voters opposed the expansion of domestic partnerships by a ratio of 55-45.
Hence Kirby’s vote Wednesday against gay marriage, when the bill passed the House. It passed the Senate last week.
“I didn’t vote against it because I was against it,” Kirby said Thursday. “I voted against it because the people in my district were against it. That’s what I’m supposed to do. … That’s why they call me ‘representative.’ “
Most Read Local Stories
- Wondering why society went off-kilter during the pandemic? It was all predicted in this book
- Coronavirus daily news updates, September 21: What to know today about COVID-19 in the Seattle area, Washington state and the world
- An Idaho ICU doctor's touching message went viral. Here's what he told his co-workers
- Valuable crab populations are in a 'very scary' decline in warming Bering Sea
- Seattle's COVID eviction moratorium extended into January 2022
The Legislature’s partisan caucuses have crunched the numbers, and lawmakers know how their new districts voted on Referendum 71. That vote might be the best gauge of a district’s opinion, even if it’s an imperfect one: Domestic partnerships are not the same as marriage, and polls indicate a shift toward support of same-sex marriage in recent years.
In places with strong support or opposition to R-71, most lawmakers voted on marriage in concert with their constituents — even if it meant crossing party lines as with Kirby. State Sen. Steve Litzow, R-Mercer Island, voted for the gay-marriage bill, and his district overwhelmingly backed R-71 with 64 percent support.
In some areas that split down the middle on R-71 — the districts centered on Federal Way, Mason County, the Gig Harbor peninsula and Joint Base Lewis-McChord, for example — their delegations to the Legislature split, too.
Other lawmakers took political risks.
Kirby’s fellow 29th District Democrats, Sen. Steve Conway and Rep. Connie Ladenburg, supported and even co-sponsored the gay-marriage bill. Ladenburg is leaving the Legislature to run for Pierce County Council; Conway said jobs, crime and education matter more to his district.
“I think it isn’t what I call the critical issue that our voters are going to make their decision to vote for me on,” Conway said.
Sen. Jim Kastama acknowledged his yes vote wouldn’t be popular back home in Puyallup, where just 42 percent of his district voted for R-71. But Kastama isn’t seeking re-election; he’s running for secretary of state. Statewide, 53 percent of voters supported R-71.
Opponents of gay marriage who bucked their districts include Democratic Sens. Jim Hargrove, of Hoquiam, and Paull Shin, of Edmonds, and Republican Rep. Jay Rodne, of North Bend.
Rodne was a forceful voice against the bill though he hails from a district that supported R-71 with 54 percent of votes. His fellow 5th District Republicans — Rep. Glenn Anderson and Sen. Cheryl Pflug — voted yes.
Some lawmakers who parted ways with their districts cited personal reasons for their break.
“My adopted family raised me as they raised their own children, with strong Christian values,” Shin said in a statement crediting his adoptive family for saving his life. “To this day, I cherish those values and try to live my life in accordance with their teachings. Therefore my vote against passage of this bill was one that was deeply personal.”
Two Republicans in the Legislature voted for same-sex marriage even though their districts opposed R-71 — and even though a national group has promised to fund primary challengers to Republicans who cast such votes.
GOP Sen. Joe Fain, 31, a freshman senator from Auburn, comes from a district where fewer than 48 percent of voters backed R-71. A minuscule 36 percent supported it in GOP Rep. Maureen Walsh’s Walla Walla district — yet Walsh, who voted for the partnerships expansion in 2009, still won re-election and survived to champion same-sex marriage this week.
“My daughter came out of the closet a couple of years ago,” Walsh said in a floor speech Wednesday. “… she’s met a person that she loves very much. And someday, by God, I want to throw a wedding for that kid.”