by Sarah Wyatt
– The Capitol Hill Times –
Shawn Smith, 41, and his partner, Craig Matthews, 39, were the 16th couple in line at the King County Administrative Building on the evening of Dec. 5, arriving at four and a half hours before same-sex couples could legally apply for Washington State marriage licenses. The energetic pair, originally from the Midwest, have been together 12 years and moved to Seattle 11 years ago.
The couple’s former lack of legal marital recognition was particularly painful two years ago, when Smith’s heart stopped unexpectedly while at the gym. While coincidentally passing the gym, Matthews was informed that Smith had just been transported to Harborview.
“If it wasn’t for me knowing what was going on, nobody would have contacted me about the situation,” Matthews explained. “Harborview was pretty understanding about my wanting to be in the room at all times and they let me. But when the time came for an important medical decision to be made, they wouldn’t accept me as the decision maker. Fortunately, I had my domestic partnership card with me which allowed me to make the decisions that needed to be made, but for someone else who didn’t have their card with them, the outcome could have been very different.”
While the couple considers last month’s historic vote a major victory for the gay community, Matthews, a project manager for the Washington State Dental Association, believes there is still progress to be made.
“Discrimination will always be a part of society in the form of attitudes toward LGBT people, no matter what laws are passed,” Matthews explained. “It takes time for people to have a change of mind as far as their views on gay and lesbians. However, the more gays and lesbians people know, the quicker that change will occur. And then you take into consideration the up and coming generation…I think in general the younger people in our society don’t view sexuality as an issue. There have been great strides in attitude changes in the past few years and I believe those changes will continue to occur.”
Both Matthews and Smith, a service manager for Sutter Home and Hearth, note that their employers and coworkers are supportive and open to learning about the same-sex marriage issue.
“We’ve just been very excited about being able to get our licenses and the support we have received has been incredible,” Matthews said. “It has also been a perfect opportunity to further explain the issues of marriage on a nationwide scope as well as provide information on the exciting announcement that the U.S. Supreme Court is hearing two cases in March. Many people don’t realize that a state-issued same-sex marriage doesn’t automatically qualify you federal benefits… They think once you are married, you receive all benefits.”
The church-going couple enjoys domesticity, including their two Siamese cats, Miss Lisa and Sophie, and a collection of paintings by Henry, a local artist.
“We try to keep a healthy lifestyle and go to the gym. Shawn is a fantastic cook and we enjoy entertaining very much,” Matthews explained. “We have a strong supportive church life – First Church on Denny Way. In fact, our pastor, Sandy Brown, was involved with the commercials in support of R-74. I am originally from Kansas and Shawn is originally from Nebraska. Both of our fathers were pastors of conservative churches. Shawn’s immediate family has severed ties with him, though my family continues to carry a strong relationship with both of us, though they don’t agree with the gay lifestyle. Both of us have gay brothers, which seems to be occurring more and more with families where one boy is gay.”
The duo is proud of their adopted home, and is optimistic that other states will follow Washington’s lead.
“Because of Washington’s, Maine’s, and Maryland’s decisions to allow same-sex marriage, I am hopeful that other states will follow suit,” Matthews said. “It is definitely an exciting time for us and to live in a state that is on the very forefront of the issue. It’s incredible to live in the first state to approve same-sex marriages by a popular vote.”