Sweet Seattle Celebrates Gay Marriage
Seattle, a sprawling, liberal-minded city that hugs Puget Sound, is often at odds politically with its neighbors in conservative Washington state. But at this year's Pride - dubbed "Equality: Passed, Present & Future" - Seattle's citizens got a chance to exhale, gleefully. After a long campaign, when votes were counted last Nov. 7, voters in city and state were united in approving marriage equality.
Blessed be the ties that bind.
"We have been working for the past six years for the passage of the marriage equality in Washington," said Josh Friedes, a director at the Seattle-based Equal Rights Washington. "We've engaged people throughout the state in a community-wide conversations, which grew out of a need to protect gay families from discrimination."
Friede noted that what has set Washington apart from other states that have achieved marriage equality - or are still struggling to - is that its lobbying efforts have been incremental over a period of years.
"We took an evolutionary approach," Friede said, "and it paid off with the passage of marriage equality in last November's election. We achieved victory after victory because we did not move forward with initiatives until we knew we were going to win."
Marriage equality brings the promise of an economic uptick. The Williams Institute at the University Of California School Of Law, a center that studies sexual orientation, public policy, and gender identity, predicts that Washington will see increases in sales and lodging tax revenue from same-sex wedding and wedding related tourism to the tune of $57 million this year; a total of $88 million is predicted over the next three years.
With these developments in mind, I visited Seattle recently to take the city's pulse as it embraces its new freedom.
Catalyst for Change
As it happened, I didn’t have to look further than my hotel.
Troy Thrall, sales manager at Inn at the Market, and Jerry Gardner, who works for Microsoft, had been living together for the past 15 years. Thrall told me the couple "never talked about" getting married. But when the marriage equality vote loomed large on the local ballot last fall, things changed for Thrall and Gardner.
"Our attitude before was, ’Yeah, whatever,’" Thrall said. "But then the campaign started to gain momentum, and it was like, ’So, is this really happening?’ And then friends started asking, ’Jerry, are you going to propose to Troy?’"
Having grown up in a conservative farming and church-going community of 800 residents in eastern Washington, Thrall knew only too well how deeply divided Washington has been on this issue. When visiting outside of Seattle, where his family still lives, he said he was hesitant to demonstrate public displays of affection with Jerry.
"The new law has been a catalyst for changing attitudes, it has made being public about our sexuality easier, and we feel more accepted," Thrall said. "It’s no big deal now walking hand-in-hand when I’m out of town with Jerry."
Jerry invited Reverend Todd Eklof, of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Spokane, to officiate at their wedding.
"Rev. Eklof had been fired from his job in the ministry eight years before because he wanted to perform marriage ceremonies for gay couples and his Baptist congregation in Kentucky wouldn’t allow it," Thrall said. "So when we asked him to officiate at our wedding, he was thrilled."
Another same-sex couple, media gadfly Dan Savage and partner Terry Miller, tied the knot in a public ceremony on Dec. 9, attended by Seattle’s Mayor Mike McGinn, at City Hall.
"The fight isn’t over," Savage wrote in The Stranger, a Seattle newsweekly he edits. "Same-sex couples are still being discriminated against in 37 ’non-recognition states.’... But right now, we can take a moment to celebrate what we’ve won: peace of mind, the right to determine our own next of kin, immigration equality for bi-national couples, dignity. And we should take a moment to express our gratitude."
Savage is one of many positive voices one hears in Seattle on this issue.
Listen, for example, to business owner Jody Hall. She married her wife Kelly Ring six years ago. She operates six Cupcake Royale stores throughout the city. Her shops are small. Her tasty cakes fit in your palm. But she is also committed to social change and dialog.
"The fight for equal rights is not over, not by a long shot," Hall told me. She introduced "The Gay," a vanilla cupcake with rainbow sprinkles. Proceeds from the sales of these cakes were earmarked for marriage equality and the "It Gets Better" campaign (founded by Dan Savage) that reaches out to LGBT youngsters urging them to "hang in there" during the difficult - and alienating - middle and high school years.
"We sold many of these cakes during Pride Month," Hall said. "It turns out many kids bought them because kids love rainbows. They’d return home with them and it sparked family dialogs even in the most conservative homes about equal rights."
One of Jody Hall’s stores is near the Inn at the Market, on Pine Street. The other hotel I stayed at, Alexis Hotel, is a few blocks away on First Ave. Both afford access to all downtown attractions. The Inn at the Market is seconds away from Pike Place Market, the oldest continuously operating farmer’s market in the United States.
When I arrived at the marketplace on a brilliant sunny afternoon, dozens of shoppers passed me by cradling colorful bouquets of fresh flowers. American poet Kenneth Patchen’s words came to mind: "Now when I get back here, I expect to find all of you marching through the streets with great bunches of wild flowers in your arms." These bouquets are so affordable, it was tempting to buy out the lot and pass them out to strangers, pell-mell, to bring Patchen’s vision to life.
My room at the Inn at the Market overlooked the bustling harbor. I watched as ferries steamed out to the islands. On Saturday afternoon, I spied mammoth cruise ships as they departed the port, one after the other, bound for exotic destinations.
Both hotels offer enticing feature packages. The Inn at the Market has a package that includes admission to Triple Door, a popular entertainment venue (it’s a former vaudeville house that has been lovingly restored), a mere ten-minute walk away. I attended an imbecilic "burlesque" show, but that shouldn’t deter you from exploring other options, including the nightly live music.
The Alexis is also offering special rates for same-sex newlywed couples as part of its "Suite On You" package. Couples who show their marriage license are eligible for a suite, including a free bottle of bubbly. The Alexis serves brunch in the Library Bistro where you are surrounded by books and mahogany, an atmosphere of elegance and comfort.
Nearby Islands, City Neighborhoods
I teamed up with talented Seattle photographer Aimee Chase, who generously offered to guide me in my exploration Seattle’s neighborhoods and Vashon and Bainbridge islands.
Aimee drove me to ferries and once on the islands, we motored down the twisty streets, visited an outfitter, rented a kayak, and explored the harbor. On Vashon, we sighted a bald eagle soaring overhead. While both islands are only short distances from Seattle, they seem worlds away. Plan to visit the islands to explore their abundant protected woodlands, as well as unspoiled views of Mt. Rainer and the nearby Olympic mountain range.
Back in Seattle, Aimee introduced me to several city neighborhoods, including Capitol Hill. While LGBT residents live throughout all of Seattle’s neighborhoods, Capitol Hill has a visible LGBT presence - the street signs proclaim Broadway as the main route for the Pride parade, even though the yearly Pride parade now begins downtown. There are numerous shops to visit, funky coffee shops and restaurants, gay bars on Pike and Pine, and bookstores.
And while there is no shortage of restaurants and watering holes, be sure to visit the Elysian Brewing Co., with several locations throughout Seattle, including Capitol Hill. I was joined tableside by assistant manager Lucretia Bleakley, a savvy New Mexico native who now happily calls Seattle her home. She ordered a sampler of brews for me to taste. I recommend the Pilsner, light and crisp, and the Men’s Room - amber in color with a light hop aroma and a toasty malt finish. All Elysian brews use the freshest of local ingredients, and the pub stays open late for night owls.
On my last night in Seattle, Aimee invited me to join her friends on the rooftop of an apartment in the Georgetown neighborhood on the outskirts of the city. Georgetown is an urban frontier with unsightly paved parking lots across from quaint apartments and homes. Airplanes swoop down to land at Boeing field nearby. Neighbors and friends frequently gather for spirited parties, music, and shared meals.
Seattle’s folk display an infectious sense of optimism. They are vocal about their commitment to equality and diversity. They left me feeling inspired, like the honey-glow that lingered in the sky over downtown long after the sun had set.
Seattle-Tacoma Airport is served by all major carriers. It is located within a half hour from the city center via light rail, taxi or car.
You can plan to arrive by cruise ship, and explore the city before sailing on to additional ports. For information about ferry service to Vashon or Bainbridge Island, visit their website: www.wsdot.wa.gov/ferries.
While in Seattle, getting around is made easier by monorail, a light rail that operates within the city, buses, taxis or bike rental outfitters. There is ample signage to most major destinations.