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No longer ‘separate, but equal’
One day a few years ago, while working around the house, Phil Bonderud accidentally stuck himself in the arm with a knife. At the urgent care clinic in Port Orchard, his partner David Smith assisted him with paperwork and showed clinic staff members their domestic partnership registration cards.
Smith said the nurse didn’t know how to accommodate their domestic partnership, and didn’t allow Smith to sign for his partner’s paperwork — though any privilege, benefit and responsibility given through a marriage license is also given through domestic partnership registration.
“It’s not something that needs to be punished, but it’s an example of why domestic partnerships are not ‘separate but equal,’ ” Smith said. Unlike marriage, “There’s always the momentary pause of ‘I don’t understand this.’ ”
Smith, 49, and Bonderud, 53, of Olalla have been registered since 2009 and have been together since 2004. With the passage of Referendum 74, which upheld the same-sex marriage law passed in the state Legislature, they plan to apply for a marriage license and be married sometime next summer.
Through different legal maneuvers, Smith and Bondbrud are legally linked through bank accounts, health insurance and the house they own together.
“There are legal things you can do [to bind you together], but they’re contestable in court,” by other family members, Smith said. “Marriage is not.”
Washington voters passed the law with 53 percent of the vote, which was finalized on Nov. 8 when Preserve Marriage Washington, the organization that challenged the state law, conceded. Kitsap County also approved the measure by 53.9 percent.
“We knew this was not going to be an easy fight,” Preserve Marriage Washington chairman Joseph Backholm said in a statement. “Washington is a deep blue state and one of the most secular states in the country,” adding that their opponent, Washington United, outspent them by $10 million.
“This issue and related issues are not going to go away anytime soon,” Backholm said in an interview, adding that his organization has no immediate plans to bring the issue back to the public for a vote. “The primary points of the campaign are incredibly valuable ... [which will be] validated, whether in two years from now or two generations from now. We’re not going to stop making those arguments.”
Andy Grow, secretary of Washington United, credited the changing demographics of the state for the passage — 65 percent of the support came from 18- to 25-year-olds — and he said if this were on the ballot five years ago it may not have passed.
The support for Referendum 74 came from many different organizations, including faith groups.
Rev. Mark Travis of Bainbridge Island said he thinks the support from churches helped those of faith see Referendum 74 as less about religion and more about equality. He has been with his partner, Dr. Michael Tomberg, for 22 years, raising three children. They are also planning to marry next year.
Travis said people of faith came to see that “there were clergy of a variety, of not only Christian [faith] but also clergy of other faiths … who are in support of marriage equality and believe as I do that God doesn’t see us as male and female, but as spiritual entities.”
Election Day, as he sat “glued to the TV,” was a historic moment. “I just shouted ‘Hallelujah’ when it looked like marriage equality was going to win,” he said. “Over 10,000 gay and lesbian couples in the state who will now have the exact same civil rights and equal standing as our heterosexual brothers and sisters.”
Bonderud grew up in southern Florida, where most of his family does not accept his sexual orientation, and he developed a thick skin around straight people.
He said he’s lost some of his fear of straight people’s attitudes, partly because of Washington’s progressive culture, and partly because of the friends he and Smith have made in Kitsap County.
“It almost gave me a tingling sensation, a very happy sensation,” he said of watching the results Nov. 6. “I reached a point where I don't have to go through feelings that people hate me.”
Smith said he had more faith in Washington's population, having grown up in Kitsap with welcoming, “pragmatic” Catholic parents. But playing classical trumpet for weddings, as a hobby, Smith said he did dream of a traditional wedding.
“It was kind of sad, everyone looked so happy,” he said of weddings he’s played at. “That was something that I was never going to get, ever. We could be together, but having that ceremony, the affirmation of our life together, I’d like to do that.”
Now, with the support of many churches in the area, they may have a traditional church wedding after all.
Denise Farkas and Jennifer Christine, of Port Orchard, are very happy marriage equality was approved Nov. 6, but feel no need to adjust their future based on the new marriage license.
Farkas said she’s seen voters overturn marriage equality laws in Oregon and California, and doesn’t completely trust the state law will remain forever.
“I think it’s fantastic that we live in a state that is more progressive. It’s a definite plus,” Farkas said. “But I know a lot of straight couples who [don’t] feel the need to get married either.”
Christine added, “I don’t feel I have to prove my relationship. My relationship works. It works for my family and works for my friends.” Farkas and Christine have been together for 11 years, and for the last four years have planned a “ceremony” (Christine’s word) and a “party” (Farkas’ word) with their family and friends for early 2013.
“There’s never been a question that we weren’t together and a couple [in our families’ minds],” Christine said. “We’re very lucky in that respect, I think.”
Farkas and Christine are not registered domestic partners, but are established in their careers and drew up a will together — which they say is enough for now.
“When it passes on a [federal] government level, when my partner and I can file a joint tax return, I will party in the streets,” Christine said.
The other couples agreed; especially when it comes to pensions and other retirement benefits, it is an uphill battle until there is federal legislation that overturns the Defense of Marriage Act and allows for same-sex marriage.
“Just because I’ve lived for so many years with this inequality, now that [equality] is there, I want to get that paperwork done,” Smith said. “We’re happy, I’m very happy, I like this life, I like my partner, I love my partner, I want to continue to see this happen and grow.”