Walla Walla Rep. Walsh's floor speech on gay marriage goes viral

By Michelle Dupler, Tri-City HeraldFebruary 10, 2012 

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.

"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."

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