On February 1st, Sen. Brian Hatfield issued a statement outlining his vote in favor of Senate Bill 6239. On February 5th, the Daily World of Aberdeen published the following editorial by City Editor Dan Jackson on the senator's release:
For more than a month, Sen. Brian Hatfield has worn a very personal, emotional and philosophical struggle on his shirt sleeve.
The Raymond Democrat hasn’t been shy about sharing his indecision on whether to vote to allow gay marriage in the State of Washington. Ultimately, he voted for it, but that’s not what has impressed me about Sen. Hatfield.
Over the last month, I’ve watched him be picked at by both sides of the issue and pressured by reporters, but through it all he’s been frank and unapologetic about his internal debate.
A politician who tells the truth: how refreshing. A man who wanted to take the time to decide on a landmark issue and consider the consequence on both sides: even more refreshing.
Hatfield has been so honest and willing to share, for the last month he’s been thrust into the spotlight as one of the Senate’s “undecided Democrats” in just about every story on the issue from NPR to The Seattle Times to the Associated Press. Frankly, I felt like he was being picked on at times by my media mates. Truth be told, he just wasn’t afraid to articulate his struggle, no matter who called for comment.
“This has been one of the most difficult votes I have ever been associated with,” Hatfield said recently. But if you think the senator was drawing out the debate to capture the cameras, think again. He understood what a vote either way may mean for him. And not just the political consequences, either.
“Regardless of how I choose to vote on the issue of marriage equality, I will alienate myself from friends and neighbors that I have known for years.”
Gay marriage, like abortion, is an issue that brings out the venom on both sides. Debates over the issue are so inhospitable that most politicians take a side and try to quietly vote and hide from the limelight. After all, it’s easier to weather the storm with a cadre of ready-made friends who share your position when you’re just a name on a list of “yes” or “no” votes.
It’s a whole different animal to declare yourself undecided and field the questions and calls from constituents, lobbyists and fellow party members. Especially if the issue is gay marriage, and you’re a Democrat.
Remember, we’re not talking about reauthorizing a bill to pay for goose dropping removal. Issues like gay marriage blur the lines of policy, religion, civil rights and sexuality.
In other words, people get a bit worked up about these things. Hatfield didn’t shy away from the sensitivity of the issue. On the contrary, over and over, he spoke the absolute truth about it:
“A vote in favor of marriage equality will enrage those who see it as a stone cast against God and the beliefs that I, and thousands like me, have been raised with. A vote against will label me as a bigot who is against extending the basic rights that I enjoy to all residents of our state.”
He’s absolutely right. But, more to the point, he had the courage to say it. Every one of the votes in the state Senate on Wednesday had the same consequences associated with it, yeah or nay. Sens. Jim Hargrove and Tim Sheldon, Hatfield’s Coastal Caucus seatmates and fellow Democrats, risk being labeled bigots for voting against gay marriage. Hatfield risks being alienated from his devoutly Christian friends and constituents for his vote to support it.
Those chips will fall where they may. But Hatfield’s willingness to talk openly about the consequences shined a spotlight on them — issuing a warning to the Senate that this vote wasn’t about whether the governor wanted it, or even about the realization of a dream for Sen. Ed Murray, the openly gay lawmaker who sponsored the measure. It was, as Murray himself put it, about “as contentious as any issue that this body has considered in its history.”
So, feel what you will about Sen. Hatfield’s decision. That’s your right and mine. But honest, forthright politicians can be few and far between, and we’ve got one here on the Twin Harbors.
Just remember that Sen. Hatfield told you the truth before you decide how you feel about his vote.
Dan Jackson, The Daily World’s city editor, can be reached at 537-3929, or by email at email@example.com.