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A matter of rights, Referendum 74 | Election 2012

Wayne Clark-Elliott, left, and his son Jonas Clark-Elliott chat over a magazine at home. The Clark-Elliott family is committed to supporting equal rights for same-sex couples. Family photo - Tracey Compton/Tukwila Reporter
Wayne Clark-Elliott, left, and his son Jonas Clark-Elliott chat over a magazine at home. The Clark-Elliott family is committed to supporting equal rights for same-sex couples. Family photo
— image credit: Tracey Compton/Tukwila Reporter

Although Jonas Clark-Elliott hasn’t found the right person yet, he knows someday he’d like to marry another man. He wants the world to know that it’s a stereotype that gays can’t have committed, long-term relationships.

Although he says gays were forced into clandestine meetings and sometimes quick hook-ups because of the stigma and prejudice, that isn’t the case today.

“Today, it’s nothing but a stereotype,” he said. “The gay 18 to 30 set does tend to be promiscuous. So does the straight 18 to 30 set. It’s pretty common for many young people, but it’s never all.”

This is partly why the 33-year-old Jonas of Renton supports Referendum 74, which if approved would confirm the state Legislature’s and Gov. Chris Gregoire’s support for same-sex marriage.

While Jonas waits for the final vote to be tallied, opinions on the issue vary amongst local churches.

To Jonas, the decision is clear.

“This isn’t about special rights for anyone, it’s about equal rights,” he said. “It isn’t gay rights, it’s basic human rights. The right to marry whatever person you love, male or female or any other gender, and there are other categories.”

He wants all the legal rights that come with being married.

He came out about his sexuality around age 19 and says he couldn’t have better straight allies than his parents, Barb and Wayne Clark-Elliott. His family has been going to Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays or PFLAG meetings for the past 14 years.

“My parents couldn’t have been less difficult to come out to; their reactions were nothing compared to my fears,” said Jonas.

Jonas’ parents would like to see Referendum 74 approved because they are getting older and are concerned about the happiness and well-being of their son.

“We’re doing our best to set up a network, but he’s 33 now,” said Barb. “We just worry, what’s going to happen to him when we’re gone.”

She recalls her own marriage to her husband Wayne and the comfort it gave her parents once she was married.

“When your child is married, you assume that, that person is going to be in their life forever,” Barb said. “But, Jonas . . . it hasn’t worked out that way for him yet, but that doesn’t mean it won’t.”

Pastor Troy Jones of New Life Church on the Maple Valley Highway in Renton sees the situation differently.

In an interview, Jones said he was “not trying to come against a community of people, but trying to protect the definition of marriage” with his stance on Referendum 74.

Jones’ definition of marriage is one man, one woman forever. He explained his views on same-sex marriage during a sermon he gave to his church this past summer. He urged his congregation to be compassionate to gay people. New Life’s members number about 3,700 on any given Sunday.

“I think the church in general has been irresponsible,” he said speaking of religious institutions broadly. “The church has been very judgmental and hateful toward homosexuals. I don’t see Jesus holding up a sign saying, ‘God hates gays’.”

Homosexuality is a complex issue, Jones said, and he doesn’t feel that it’s a greater sin than others.

He would put his church in the “conservative-verbage,” but says he preaches the Bible and wants to show Jesus to the world.

Pastor Kirby Unti of St. Matthew Lutheran Church in the Highlands respects differences of opinion on this subject.

He calls his congregation of roughly 1,000 members a spectrum of opinions. When asked personally if he would perform same-sex marriages if requested he said:

“I would handle it the same way I would handle it with a straight couple. I would use the same criteria.”

For Unti, the right to marry is based on entering into a lifelong commitment.

“So, regardless of gender, what matters is are you in fact going to be faithful and committed to your partner,” he said.

As Referendum 74 states, clergy would not be required to perform religious rites or ceremonies for same-sex couples if the measure passed. Faith leaders have the right to opt out of performing such duties, if it goes against their beliefs.

Unti bases his beliefs on the idea that marriage is held as a high value in the church because it is a form of convenant.

Convenant, he said, is a strong Biblical principal and in it is where you make binding promises.

So, Unti believes that same-sex couples should be given the same opportunity as straight couples.

He tries to teach his congregation not just how to discern what is right, but how to treat people with opposing viewpoints with respect.

“At the end of the day, it’s the same value that we’re looking for in the church and that is, what is the loving thing to do,” Unti said.

He does not tell his parishioners how to vote. In this interview, he spoke of his personal views on the subject.

He equates the current domestic partnership law with the idea of separate but equal that the Civil Rights Movement fought against.

“At the end of the day, I don’t believe you can be separate and equal,” he said. “I think if we’re going to treat all people fairly, then we need to allow people regardless of their sexual orientation to be fully embraced by marriage.”

 

ELECTION DETAILS

About a million voters in King County are casting their ballots in this year’s all-important state and federal elections.

The mail-in ballots must be postmarked no later than Tuesday to count. Last-minute voters can drop off their ballots at a staffed outdoor receptacle at the King County Elections Division headquarters, 919 S.W. Grady Way, Renton, before 8 p.m.

Election information is available online at kingcounty.gov/elections or by calling  206-296-VOTE (8683).

The county will release the first results just after 8 p.m. on Tuesday at its election website.

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