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Ann Eidson testifies on marriage equality in Olympia

Ann Eidson of St. Paul’s UCC in Ballard testified Jan. 25 before the Washington State Legislature in Olympia on behalf of marriage equality.

Ann Eidson

Ann Eidson

Since serving as co-pastor at All Pilgrims in Seattle and as interim at Admiral in West Seattle, she describes herself as semi-retired.

It began with an email from a friend, who is regional director of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.  The friend encouraged her to contact Molly Griffords at the Human Rights Campaign in Northwest Washington.

Griffords asked her to write and call her state senator to urge her to vote for Senate Bill 6239,  which grants civil marriage rights to same sex couples.  Her senator, Mary Margaret Haugen, was undecided and one more vote was needed.

Eidson wrote “a heartfelt, personal letter that summarized “why I thought she should vote in favor of marriage equality.”

She thought Sen. Haugen would be probably bombarded with calls and letters from the conservative district, so wasn’t sure a letter would do any good, but she decided to try.

Griffords, after reading the letter, asked Eidson to share the letter as a testimony at Senate hearings the next week.

“I had spoken in church many times about my family and life challenges,” Eidson said.  “I’ve stood on risers with the Seattle Women’s Chorus and sung with 100 women about recognizing the value of gay and straight people and their relationships.  These situations were reasonable safe.”

Now she was being asked to talk publicly about her sexual orientation, family, experiences and hopes.

“That did not feel safe,” she said, recalling being chased out of a California town by a man who thought she was “one of them,” and telling of her fear of being “outed” at work.

Speaking in front of legislators with hundreds of homophobic protestors around wasn’t appealing, but after talking with her partner and daughter, she decided it was something she had to find courage to do.   Restless, sleepless nights began.

Eidson rode to Olympia Monday, Jan. 23, with her PFLAG friend.  They parked at United Churches of Olympia, across from the capital.  She stopped inside for “a dose of spiritual energy.”

Inside the John Cherberg Building, halls were crowded with people with buttons with a male and female figure on them. Then they saw a few younger people wearing “Washington United for Marriage” stickers, who escorted them to the room for those testifying.

Senator Ed Murray briefed them on what to expect in the hearing room and said the audience wouldn’t be receptive and two senators might be confrontational.

Senator Craig Pridemore, the chair, however, set rules so the room would be a safe place for those on both sides of the issue.  Media poured in.  Each speaker had three minutes.

Eidson was in the third panel for the measure.  Hearing the onslaught of testimony against it, she felt nauseous but also felt sorry for “how incredibly hard hearted the anti-marriage people were,” she said.

The first two speakers in her group had gone over, so she had two-and-a-half minutes but had prepared three-and-a-half minutes.

“Once I started talking, I relaxed a bit because I knew my voice wasn’t shaking,” Eidson said.

When the hearing ended and she entered the packed hallway, she felt folks with the man/woman buttons glaring at her.  Down the hall were friends from the Seattle Women’s Chorus who affirmed what she said.

Next was a press conference and she learned her senator would vote for the bill, the 25th vote.

“I was so happy, weary, but happy,” Eidson said.

After the press conference and lunch, she went to the House Judiciary Committee on the companion bill HB 2516.

“We knew we had the votes to clear the house,” she said, but the hearing room and overflow rooms were nearly completely filled with those against the bill.  “The anti-marriage people were far more outspoken and nasty during the afternoon sessions.”

It was much harder for Rep. Jamie Peterson, the chair, to maintain control of the room.  He gave each speaker two minutes, but anti-marriage people went over their time.

When one representative  challenged the president of the state teachers association, she said the issue had been presented to the annual convention and had nearly unanimous support.  The room was so full of anti-bill speakers, pro-bill speakers had to be ushered to the back of the room just before their turn to speak.

“We heard many snide comments like ‘disgusting,’ ‘an abomination’ or ‘so sick,’” she said

By the time Eidson spoke, the time was cut again–to one minute.

“I hit on the challenges I know as a pastor that gay and lesbian couples face.  I mentioned that as a pastor, I have always had the right to decide who and under what circumstances I’ll perform a wedding.  Conservative clergy had argued they would have to perform gay and lesbian weddings and churches would have to allow space in their buildings for the ceremonies.

“Not so.  Never has been,” she said.

Maxed out on how much negativity and hate she could deal with in one day, she wanted to get home for a hug from her partner and daughter, but she wanted to thank her senator.

“Since that long day, I’ve been thinking about the power of stories.  In her press release and television interview, Senator Haugan said she listened to stories of gay and lesbian people who lived in her rural, conservative district, and decided she could no longer support discrimination,” she said.

“How important is your voice?  Very important.  I believe my story was one of those that influenced Senator Haugan,” said Eidson, encouraging people to use their voices “as we proceed up this road to equality.  Write letters and emails, visit in person, call on the phone.  Contact any way you can as often as you can.

“The march for freedom and equality did not end with the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  We’re still marching along that road,” she said.

For information, call 360-445-5040 or email


Copyright Pacific Northwest Conference News © February 2012


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