Faygele lights a candle at his last Passover Seder in Seattle, in 2000.(Geoff Manasse)
Navigate to News section

Marriage Equality in Washington State Begins

And the Jewish pioneer who started it all

Adam Chandler
December 07, 2012
Faygele lights a candle at his last Passover Seder in Seattle, in 2000.(Geoff Manasse)

Yesterday morning, residents of Washington State began to line up at various municipal offices to apply for marriage licenses. Hours before, Governor Chris Gregoire signed into the law the bill formally legalizing gay marriage after Washington voters passed Referendum 74 with nearly 54% of the vote on Election Day in November.

While the 30-day denouement from the vote to the enactment may have seemed swift, the process ending with the legalization of same-sex marriage took decades. At the vanguard of the battle in Washington were two men, Paul Barwick and his partner Faygele Ben Miriam, who 40 years ago, walked into a county recorder’s office and asked for a marriage license, only to be denied.

Earlier this year, Eli Sanders wrote a spectacular profile of gay rights activist Faygele Ben Miriam that I’m thrilled to spotlight again given the week’s good news.

So began one of the first—and least famous—gay marriage lawsuits in the nation, Singer v. Hara. It concluded unsuccessfully, in 1974, with the Washington State Court of Appeals essentially laughing the men out of court. But by that time Singer was on to his next fight, and a new name, Faygele ben Miriam, which he took to simultaneously tweak homophobes (“Faygele” is Yiddish for “little bird” or “faggot”) and honor his mother, Miriam Singer. This uniquely insistent man, who died 12 years ago this week, was in his time a huge force in Washington state’s gay politics, and at the leading edge—really, beyond the leading edge—of what would eventually become the national push to achieve same-sex marriage rights. “He matters because he was part of that first wave of couples challenging the unjust and unfair denial of the freedom to marry,” said Evan Wolfson, founder of the advocacy group Freedom to Marry and author of Why Marriage Matters. “And he spoke for millions, at a time when, in some respects, gay people were just beginning to speak for full inclusion and the right to be let in, not just left alone.”

If only Ben Miriam could have lived to see the day. Check out the rest here.

Related: Gay Marriage’s Jewish Pioneer
Washington State Gay-Marriage Law Takes Effect [WSJ]
A Word from A Marriage Equality Pioneer [The Stranger]

Adam Chandler was previously a staff writer at Tablet. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, Slate, Esquire, New York, and elsewhere. He tweets @allmychandler.

Become a Member of Tablet

Join and unlock exclusive access to events, conversations with Tablet personalities, and more