Rep. Maureen Walsh addresses marriage equality in lecture

Rachel Alexander

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“I’m not very good with my speech or delivery. I just got a little lucky.”

These are the modest words of State Representative Maureen Walsh (R), whose speech in defense of gay marriage on the floor of the legislature has garnered over 1.2 million views on YouTube.

Walsh spoke to the Whitman community on the evening of Wednesday, March 28. Her lecture addressed the state of politics in Olympia, as well as her personal support for same-sex marriage.

As a member of the Republican caucus, Walsh was one of the few in her party to vote for marriage equality in Washington State, a move which drew criticism from some of her constituents. Walsh said that in 2009, voters in her district voted 71 percent in favor of repealing domestic partnership benefits for same-sex couples.

“My job is to represent my district, and I think I do a fine job of that,” she said. “That was where my greatest conflict arose in this whole thing.”

Walsh felt that ultimately, politicians have an obligation to take stands on issues of conscience.

“Did I know in my heart that I was doing the right thing? Absolutely,” she said. “I will continue to fight on behalf of equal rights for people because it’s the right thing to do.”

Senior Mehera Nori, who is co-president of the Coalition Against Homophobia, said she appreciated Walsh’s support on the issue of same-sex marriage. However, she cautioned against premature declarations of victory just because gay marriage is now legal in Washington.

“I think that this is a really great first step and it’s important to remember that it’s just a first step,” she said.

Nori cited measures like the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would prohibit discrimination in hiring based on sexual orientation or gender identity. She added that having a representative like Walsh for Walla Walla was beneficial.

“It’s really great to have somebody as outspoken [as Walsh] about a variety of issues in this community,” she said.

Walsh believes that her transparency and willingness to stick to her beliefs has helped her do her job effectively. She cited a story of receiving a phone call from a 94 year old voter who told her he didn’t agree with gay people, but he was happy to have a politician in office who was willing to stand up for herself.

“You can’t ask me to betray my convictions for political expediency,” she said. “People do it. I think too many people do it.”

Walsh also addressed student questions about the divisiveness of modern politics, pointing to her experiences as a social moderate in the Republican Party. She spoke of the importance of not alienating colleagues or constituents who disagree with her about one issue.

“You might agree with me on the next one, so I’m certainly not going to tick you off to the point where you never talk to me again,” she said. “I can agree to disagree.”

Senior politics major Yonas Fikak found Walsh’s belief in civility refreshing given the divisive nature of modern American politics.

“This is the kind of civil conversation we need in this country: people coming from the other side saying, ‘Let’s engage in conversation on an issue,'” he said.

Fikak said that in many ways, Walsh represented the antithesis of Congress, which is facing record low approval ratings and struggling to pass any major legislation.

Walsh said that her support for gay marriage ultimately came from a place of principle.

“I’m going to lose a lot of votes over this. I might lose my position over this. But I’m not going to lose my self-respect over this,” she said.