I have lived in Tacoma for 15 years, attended the University of Puget Sound, and have been actively involved in civic life since first moving here in 1997.
I have seen the community grow and change, and I recognize the diversity of families we have in Tacoma-Pierce County: military families; suburban, urban and rural families; ethnically and economically diverse families; and families of all faiths.
I believe that all families, including the gay and lesbian families that are part of our community, deserve the freedom to marry in order to celebrate their love, commitment and care for one another. That is why all Washington voters are being asked this November to approve Referendum 74 and support the effort to defend marriage equality.
In my seven years of public service in and around the City of Tacoma, one of the things I have learned is that a city is like marriage. A city starts with a simple promise on paper – a commitment – to its residents to provide basic services like access to clean water, education, the protection provided by law enforcement and well-maintained infrastructure.
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Marriage also starts with a promise, a piece of paper and a commitment, but the vow is to love and care for each other for a lifetime together. As a City Council member, I work hard every day to honor the commitment I have made to this city, just as I see my married friends honor their marriage through mutual respect, love and support during times of crisis.
I have also learned that the shared values of love, commitment and family make communities stronger and help cities to grow and flourish.
But while Washington state allows anyone to get involved in government and civic life, it does not allow everyone to get married. Loving gay and lesbian couples who serve their community cannot show their commitment to one another because that promise and piece of paper is not available to them. This is why I support the ability of same-sex couples to get married and ask all Tacoma-Pierce County voters to approve R-74 and defend the freedom to marry.
Marriage also resonates with me personally. My partner, Jerry, and I have been together for more than five years, own a home in town, and serve our city and country. Jerry is not only a local small-business owner, but also an officer in the U.S. Army Reserves, committed to a life of service.
A graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, Jerry served more than a dozen years on active duty, including a combat tour in Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. This July he received short-notice deployment orders sending him to the Middle East for nearly a year. He came home to start the mad dash of paperwork to make sure our household would be in order during his absence.
The orders have since been rescinded, but in the short time we had to prepare, things were really chaotic as we tried to plan our lives for him to be away for a year serving our country, while I was back home trying to keep things running on my own. We faced unimaginable hurdles of real estate, insurance and medical red tape as an unmarried couple.
Jerry and I were organized, but overwhelmed, so when his orders were changed and we found out he would be staying home, we felt more than ever how important marriage, not domestic partnership, was to us.
We want all loving same-sex couples in Tacoma-Pierce County, including ourselves, to be able to marry so that we may honor each other in the highest regard and spend the rest of our days together as a committed, loving couple.
Marriage is the most definitive, universally understood statement a couple can make about their lifetime commitment and couples often wed in front of friends and family so they can help support the relationship in good times and bad. It is more than a legal status – it is the promise that two people make to provide each other the fundamental support we all need to be our best, day in and day out.
We rely on our city, state and country to provide us with basic services so that we have the ability to pursue greater achievements. It’s time to tell our state we want the same for marriage. All loving couples, gay or straight, deserve the ability to marry so that they may live a life of love and commitment that only marriage offers.
This November, vote to approve Referendum 74 and support marriage for all in Washington state.
Ryan Mello is a member of the Tacoma City Council.