Friday, February 17, 2012

Famous Speech Friday: Rep. Maureen Walsh's speech on gay marriage

"I don't wax as eloquently as most of the people on the floor here, but I have allowed my heart and my mind to guide me on a lot of issues that have been before us in the legislature, and I think that sometimes that's what we have to do," she said by way of introduction. And with that, Washington State Representative Maureen Walsh began a speech that went viral, fast, in support of  the state's pending legislation permitting gay marriage--a measure that was being debated at the time, and has now been passed into law.

This was a speech full of contrasts and surprises. In supporting the legislation, Walsh--a Republican representing Walla Walla--had to break ranks with her party. She's a heterosexual, supporting the rights of homosexuals. And she said, right at the start, that she wasn't as eloquent as others in the legislature, then wowed the house and the rest of the world.

That's because Walsh dug deep to explain her support. Describing herself as a "lonely old widow," she said "When I think of my husband and I think of all the years that we had...I don't miss the sex," to some laughter. Instead, she said she misses "that incredible bond I had with that human being," underscoring that the legislation wasn't about supporting sex, but about supporting stable relationships.

She brought that sense of justice back to herself, noting that if others hadn't spoken up for women's rights, she was "not sure I would be here as a woman."  It's a heartfelt speech, one that any parent or child can relate to. Walsh, speaking of her daughter's coming out as a lesbian, said "Someday, by God, I want to throw a wedding for that kid," dismissing the term "domestic partnership" as a term "which frankly sounds like a Merry Maids franchise to me." "I was proud of myself because I didn't cry," she told a newspaper reporter later. "When I really got emotional was afterward when my daughter texted me and said, 'You rock, Mom!'" Here's what you can learn from this famous speech:

  • Personal details make your speech memorable:  Specific personal details are what make your speech one-of-a-kind. In this speech, Walsh shared a very personal perspective and details about her immediate family, making a polarized debate understandable at a basic level and giving her listeners plenty to relate to and like.
  • Speaking personally can insulate your remarks from attack: Using "I" statements will always work better for you than the more accusatory "you" statements in a debate.  After all, no one can take your feelings and personal details away from you. By making a big issue a personal one, Walsh made it more difficult for her viewpoint to be attacked.
  • The unexpected is what audiences most want, but don't get: An element of surprise in a well-worn debate is always thrown into high relief, but even in an average presentation or everyday speech, audiences crave the unexpected--the things that make us stop and think, or that delight us at a moment when we expect to be bored. 

Read more here:
Here's the video of this famous speech. What do you think of it?

Looking for famous speeches by women? Check out The Eloquent Woman Index of Famous Women's Speeches, with a wide variety of women speakers, types of speeches and topics to inspire your next speech. Each one comes with lessons for speakers, plus video or audio and a transcript, where available.