When Rep. Maureen Walsh gave a heartfelt speech this week in support of legalizing same-sex marriage, she was talking to 97 of her colleagues in the Legislature.
But the whole world was watching, and Walsh -- a Walla Walla Republican who broke ranks with her party to support the legislation -- found herself flooded with calls and emails Thursday after video of her speech went viral on the internet.
"I can't believe what's going on. I just got an email from Ireland," Walsh told the Herald during a break in legislative action Thursday.
Walsh spoke during the Wednesday debate about the bond she shared with her late husband and her desire for all couples to be able to experience that kind of connection. She also spoke about her love for her lesbian daughter and wanting to someday throw her daughter a wedding.
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"I was proud of myself because I didn't cry," she said. "When I really got emotional was afterward when my daughter texted me and said, 'You rock, Mom!' "
The video of Walsh's speech was posted to Facebook by actor George Takei, best known as "Mr. Sulu" on Star Trek, but in recent years a high-profile advocate for gay and lesbian rights since his own coming out as a gay man.
Takei has become a popular social media figure and gained nearly 1 million Facebook followers.
"A glimpse inside the debates of the Washington Legislature on same-sex marriage equality. This mom of three really hits it home. It is hard to watch without choking up as she does," Takei's Facebook post said.
The video gained about 10,500 likes by 5 p.m. Thursday -- about five hours after Takei posted it -- and had been shared by more than 5,000 of Takei's followers.
Takei found the video through website Buzzfeed.com, which describes itself as an aggregator of "the hottest, most social content on the web."
Buzzfeed labeled Walsh's speech "The Best Testimony From Washington State's Gay Marriage Hearing," and had been viewed more than 6,500 times by Thursday afternoon. The majority of Buzzfeed users who voted on the video labeled it with the positive rating "Win." Two people gave it the negative rating "Fail."
Buzzfeed also posted video of the speech to YouTube, where almost 5,000 users "liked" it and 54 people "disliked" it by about 5 p.m. Thursday.
Walsh was one of only two Republicans in the House to vote Wednesday in favor of the bill allowing gay couples to marry in Washington The bill passed 55-43 and will be signed by Gov. Chris Gregoire on Monday.
That likely won't be the end of the story, as opponents have vowed to collect enough signatures to place a referendum on the November ballot allowing voters to decide whether they want same-sex marriage to become legal in the state.
Walsh said most of the calls and emails she has received have been positive and supportive.
"I got a couple of negative emails, too," she said.
A number of commenters on Takei's Facebook post, the YouTube video posted by Buzzfeed and the Buzzfeed page suggested Walsh should run for president.
"No thanks!" she said with a laugh.
Walsh said she would rather get back to work on the state's pressing issues, including the budget.
"We have a lot of work ahead," she said.
And although Walsh is the one gaining international attention from the debate, she commended her colleagues in the Legislature for their decorum.
"I'm just so impressed with my colleagues on the House floor," she said. "People were kind and gracious about this issue. It's tough to be the odd man out in the caucus, but my caucus has been so kind to me. I am so proud to work with these people."
The complete text of Walsh's speech:
"I don’t wax as eloquently as most of the people on the floor here, but I have allowed my heart and mind to guide me on a lot of different decisions I’ve made in the legislature. I think sometimes that’s what we have to do.
I too don’t want to wag my finger at anybody about which way to vote on this. It’s certainly an issue of consciousness for me that I’ve been weighing very heavily for the past few weeks.
You know, I was married for 23 years to the love of my life and he died 6 years ago. I think of all the wonderful years we had and the wonderful fringe benefits of having 3 beautiful children. I don’t miss the sex, and to me that’s kind of what this boils down to. I don’t miss that I mean I certainly miss it, but it’s certainly not the aspect of that relationship, that incredible bond I had with that human being, that I really really genuinely wish I still had. And so I just think to myself: how could I deny anyone the right to have that incredible bond with another individual in life. To me it seems almost cruel.
Years ago my daughter went to elementary school. Many of you have met my daughter she’s a fabulous girl, she’s wonderful, my boys are great too, but she’s really something special. She was the light of her father’s eye.
So she went to school and there were a whole group of kids picking on another kid, and you know, my daughter stuck up for that kid. Even though it wasn’t the popular thing to do it was the right thing to do. I was never more proud of my kid than knowing she was speaking against the vocal majority on behalf of the rights of the minority. And to me, it is incumbent upon us as legislators in this state to do that. That is why we are here.
And I shudder to think that if folks who had preceded us in history did not do that, frankly I’m not sure I would be here as a woman. I’m not sure other people would be here due to their race or creed. And to me that is what’s disconcerting.
And someone made the comment that this is not about equality. Well yes it is about equality. And why in the world would be not allow those equal rights for individuals who are truly committed to one another in life to be able to show that in the way of a marriage.
My daughter came out of the closet a couple of years ago and you know what I thought I was going to agonize about that. Nothing’s different. She’s still a fabulous human being and she met someone she loves very much. And some day, by God, I want to throw a wedding for that kid. And someday I hope that’s what I can do. I hope she will not feel like a second-class citizen involved in something called a “domestic partnership” which frankly sounds like a Mary Maids franchise to me.
Thank you Mr. Speaker. That’s all I want to say."