This fall, Washington voters will be asked to approve Referendum 74 to keep our state’s historic new law, which allows committed gay and lesbian couples to marry. As community leaders, we are reaching out today to start a conversation about the freedom to marry. This conversation is deeply rooted in our experiences, our values and culture, and our personal and family histories as Japanese Americans.
For some of us, this conversation is deeply personal. Gay and lesbian couples want to marry for many of the same reasons as straight couples — to make a lifetime commitment to the person they love and to protect their families. While gay and lesbian couples may seem different from straight couples, we all share similar values — like the importance of family and helping our neighbors. We all worry about making ends meet or the possibility of losing a job. And all people, gay or straight, have hopes and dreams of finding that special someone to grow old with, and someone who will stand beside us in front of our friends and family, as we make a lifetime commitment to each other.
What our cultures teach us
Many Asian and Pacific Islander cultures value family. When we call our aunties, uncles, cousins, obaasan and ojiisan, chacha and chachiji, we are using the words in our many languages to name the people in our families. These definitions are by linguistics and by choice. They are multi-generational, bi-national, bi-cultural, and come in all shapes and sizes.
Respecting family and upholding family means accepting the gay people in our families — even if that may make us uncomfortable. When we accept our gay and lesbian family members, and provide the dignity and recognition that they need, we preserve family unity.
What our history teaches us
As Asians and Pacific Islanders, our community knows how laws in the United States have been used to control which families are included in the American experience. Exclusion laws targeting Asian immigrants prevented our families from being together and forced our families to endure years of separation and heartache. This history has led Asian and Pacific Islanders to help fight discriminatory laws that prohibited people from marrying those they love because of their race or national origin.
In fact, Asian and Pacific Islanders have been at the forefront of the movement to include all families in marriage. In 1994, the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) — the nation’s oldest and largest Asian American civil rights organization — became the first organization of color to endorse the freedom to marry for gay and lesbian couples.
A crucial role for Asian and Pacific Islander leadership
Marriage protects families and lets couples make a public statement of mutual love and responsibility. That is why Asians and Pacific Islanders elected state officials like Representatives Bob Hasegawa, Cindy Ryu, and Sharon Tomiko Santos voted to pass our state’s historic freedom to marry law. They joined other Asian and Pacific Islander leaders from around the country that are standing on the side of fairness, family unity, and social harmony.
Today, three past presidents of the Seattle JACL are also signing on and asking you to support marriage for gay and lesbian couples. Please join us in voting to approve Referendum 74.
Kip Tokuda, former state legislator and long-time children’s advocate. Kip’s family was incarcerated in Idaho by Executive Order 9066.
Bill Tashima, past president and current co-president of the Seattle JACL. Bill and his partner, Chris Bentley, have been in a committed relationship for seven years.
Dawn Rego is a past president of the Seattle JACL, is a member of the National JACL Nominations and Power of Words committees, and is active in the API community.