Seattle man makes the case for same-sex marriage one person at a time

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Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire, seated, raises her arms as legislators and supporters cheer behind her after she signed into law a measure that legalizes same-sex marriage Monday, Feb. 13, 2012. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

By Travis Mayfield

Paul Thomasson is on a one man letter writing campaign.

Thomasson, a Boeing employee and military veteran who lives in the Seattle area, is writing and sending personal emails to hundreds of people in Washington in the hope that by telling his personal story he can convince them to change their mind and support same-sex marriage.

Surprisingly to even some supporters, Thomasson’s campaign may actually be working.

“Because I am gay, because I've been partnered for almost 17 years, and because I would like to be equal in the eyes of the law someday before I'm too old to appreciate it, I decided to try to tell ‘my story’ to the people who need to hear it most,” Thomasson wrote on his personal website explaining his plan.

Thomasson has been poring over an online database that contains the names of everyone who signed petitions to get Referendum 71 on the ballot.

The referendum forced a public vote on the state’s 2009 domestic partnership law, which expanded gay partnership rights.

Voters still approved the law, but organizers of the effort to get R-71 on the ballot fought to keep secret the names of those who signed petitions. 

After a lengthy legal battle, the Supreme Court ruled that the names should remain public, and Thomasson is collecting contact information and sending personal notes to those who signed the petitions.

This spring there is a new effort afoot to overturn the recently approved same-sex marriage law by collecting enough signatures to qualify it for the ballot as Referendum 74 (R-74).

“It seemed to me that the people most likely to sign the petition for R74 are the ones who signed the one for R71,” wrote Thomasson.

Thomasson’s letters begin the same way.

“My name is Paul Thomasson. You don’t know me, but you may soon be in a position to have an effect on my life.”

The letters go on to talk about how he met his partner of 17 years.  How they fell in love and why full marriage equality means so much to them.

“We’re not asking for special rights or for you to agree with the morality of the way we live our lives. All we want is for our government to provide us access to the single commonly understood institution that will make it easier for us and people like us to form and perpetuate the kind of stable life-long partnerships which surely benefit society.

I can’t know what motivated you to sign the petition for R71, but I sincerely hope and pray that you will not sign the petition for R74.”

Thomasson writes that he has so far sent more than 1,600 emails and at the end of each one he has invited a reply. 

So far he’s heard back from 47 people.

Thomasson is posting the replies he receives on his website.

“I guess all you need to do is look in Webster and read what it says Marrage [sic] is. Marrage [sic] is the union between a Man & a Woman,” wrote one person, reflecting a common refrain among those who replied.

But there is another sentiment repeated in more than one reply that gives supporters of Thomasson’s effort hope.

“I thank you for your email,” wrote one woman.  “I will carefully consider my options on the vote.”

Thomasson has even received at least one apology.

“First off, I'm sorry that I signed that paper. I truly am. It was a bad day and I usually read through everything before I sign anything. I signed a paper I didn't know much about and didn't read through it!

I have a lot of friends, that I am very close to, that are gay and lesbian. I'm ecstatic that the Gay community is now allowed to marry and enjoy everything it offers here in Washington!! “

And then there are a few emails which indicate a change of heart.

“Dear Paul,

Thank you for sharing your life story. Don't worry, we will not support R 74. Good luck to you and your life partner."

A respectful debate or harmful intimidation?

Those who fought the effort to keep the R-71 signatures secret argued that not doing so would lead to harassment and intimidation of the signers. 

And some who have replied to Thomasson may believe that’s what he’s doing.

“sick . dont send me email,” reads one reply.

Supporters of gay rights argued they only wanted to see the names to have personal conversations with opponents to try to respectfully change minds.  Clearly some of those contacted by Thomasson believe his efforts are sincere.

“Thank you for your letter and for sharing something so personal with me. I value your communication and the love you have found,” wrote a woman identified as Alanna.

With 1,600 emails sent, Thomasson is just getting started working his way through the list of 121,757 names.

“I intend to continue this effort until I have transcribed and emailed all of the legible email addresses.”

A Thurston County judge is set to rule next week on the official wording that will appear on any R-74 petitions.  Once that happens, opponents of same-sex marriage will have until June 6th to collect more than 120,000 signatures to get the issue on the November ballot.

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