Photo by Peter Labberton.

Dan Savage and Dominic Holden spoke at Whitworth University on Wednesday night on Referendum 71. The two journalists are heavily involved in the R-71 debate. The event hasn’t been covered by other media sources, so we’re publishing a slightly off-topic post today with the skinny for y’all.

The speakers are both writers for Seattle’s The Stranger Holden has written extensively about Referendum 71 on the Stranger’s blog. His writing has defined much of the discourse surrounding the referendum. Savage writes a popular syndicated sex advice column called Savage Love.

The evening’s topic was Referendum 71, which is on the ballot in Washington this year. It asks voters to “approve” or “reject” expanded rights for registered domestic partners, which include same-sex couples and heterosexual seniors.

As Whitworth alum, I spent much of the event cringing, thinking “you can’t say “faggot” and “bigot” and “sex” at Whitworth! But they did. In particular, Savage did – he said what’s often tip-toed around in polite company, and he didn’t stop at naughty words. He looked the fairly conservative audience in the eye and said: you can’t do this. You’re wrong, you’re hurting people and you will not win this battle.

For Savage, the debate over Referendum 71 is not simply academic. His trademark witty veneer cracked several times as he detailed the frustrating realities of raising a family without the rights we have, as a society, deemed necessary for couples and families to function.

An example he gave: Savage is the sole provider for his partner, a stay-at-home dad, and their 12-year-old son. If Savage were to die, they would lose their home because family inheritance laws do not currently apply to domestic partners.

Holden addressed two of the primary arguments made by the Reject R-71 campaign. The first argument is that Referendum 71 is, in effect, a gay marriage bill. This argument is being made on the basis that 4 out of the 5 states currently recognizing gay marriages legalized it through a discrimination-related court ruling. His two-fold response is that 1) expanding the number of rights afforded same-sex couples does not make such a ruling more likely to happen and 2) in a 2006 court ruling, the Washington State Supreme Court upheld their stance that they will not take that path – they will rule in favor of equal protections under the law, but not in favor of legalizing gay marriage.

The second argument posed by Reject R-71 is that school systems, even private religious schools, will be forced to teach homosexuality is normal. This is, again, based on historical precedent in other states (although perhaps hyperbolized). The simple response to this argument is that this legislation includes nothing about schools, said Holden.

In the above photo, Savage holds up a Reject R-71 pamphlet with Ozzie & Harriet and their kids on it. “In a perfect world, every family would look like this. We don’t live in that world,” he said. But, he argued, it’s not gays and lesbians who compromise the value of marriage – he pointed to the divorce rate (which is lowest in a state where gay marriage is legal) and the fact that children of gay and lesbian couples are statistically better off psychologically than children in opposite-sex families. Around 25% of gay and lesbian families have children, either through adoption or surrogacy. Many of those children are the product of failed heterosexual relationships, he says, who benefit from the legal protection of same-sex partnerships.

Expanded domestic partnership rights, added Savage, encourage healthy gay and lesbian relationships and minimize some of the negative lifestyle traits often attributed to the gay community, like promiscuity and the spread of STI’s.