Washington domestic partnership referendum hangs in the balance

Saturday is the deadline for opponents of Washington State’s recently passed domestic partnership law to gather signatures and force a referendum on the measure. A total of 120,577 signatures must be handed in to the Secretary of State’s office by Saturday to put Referendum 71 on the November ballot. If that does not happen, the law will go into effect Sunday. The deadline to mail petitions in to the Secretary of State was Wednesday. Opposition to the referendum is lead by Washington Families Standing Together (WFST), an off-shoot of Equal Rights Washington which advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights including gay marriage. Starting in 2006, the Washington legislature has passed a series of laws increasing the access to a variety of benefits for same-sex couples. The bill passed earlier this year includes extending benefits to government employed same-sex partners and expands benefits for elderly widows and widowers. WFST has garnered the support of 115 organizations, including some police, firefighter and senior citizens groups, for its “Decline 2 Sign” campaign to stave off Referendum 71. “Sadly working at the state level does not provide the 1,100 marriage benefits at the federal level including Social Security, immigration, survivor benefits and veterans’ benefits,” said Josh Friedes, WFST campaign director. “The domestic partnership system rights evaporate at the border. “That being said, Washington State has taken a huge step forward and added peace of mind and economic security to many whom are aging and raising children. … We are very pleased that today 115 organizations have come to join the campaign and stand shoulder to shoulder to protect the rights of all our families.” He added the support of seniors’ groups has been very welcomed. “This law also protects senior couples in Social Security law,” he said. “For widows, they may face great economic instability if they remarry and they can lose benefits built over a lifetime with a previous spouse. Particularly hard hit in these instances are women who were housewives. This law really protects two classes of people in gay and lesbian couples and/or senior couples where one person is over age 62.” Friedes acknowledged, however, Referendum 71 will likely make it to the voting booth based on population alone. “It is relatively easy to qualify a referendum when you only need 120,000 signatures in a state of 4 million registered voters,” he said. That is an opinion groups such as Protect Marriage Washington and the Faith and Freedom Network and Foundation are banking on. Both groups have been leading the charge to gather enough signatures. In a statement endorsing R-71 on Protect Marriage Washington’s website, Faith and Freedom Network president Gary Randall expressed alarm that the domestic partner legislation was a gateway to legalizing gay marriage in Washington. “SB 5688 was presented as a bill about benefits, yet a day after it was passed, those who sponsored the bill told the Seattle press that it was really part of a long term strategy to re-define marriage and legalize same-sex ‘marriage,’” Randall wrote. “The Seattle Times editorial board agreed and said homosexuals should also be given the name ‘marriage’ as a result of the passage of SB 5688. SB 5688 is the final step. If this bill is allowed to become law, partnerships will be elevated to the level of marriage with no legal difference. The Washington State Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) will be declared irrelevant and same-sex ‘marriage’ will be imposed on Washington State through the courts.” Randall further argued the law was opposed to God’s intent for marriage. “SB 5688 is an attempt to deconstruct marriage as it has existed throughout all human history,” he continued. “This unique and exceptional relationship that connects a man and a woman to a child, genetically, is the cornerstone of every successful society in human history and is the master plan of the Creator. There is no other relationship that meets this criteria for marriage. Only natural marriage provides generational sustainability.” Similarly, Larry Stickney, who leads Protect Marriage Washington, said on the site that the law will promote litigation to legalize gay marriage through the courts. “SB 5688 was packaged and presented to the legislature as a domestic partnerships expansion of benefits,” Stickney wrote. “In truth, it will demolish the state’s historical understanding and definition of marriage as Washington will immediately become subject to litigation by same-sex partners demanding the courts overturn our state’s Defense of Marriage Act and impose ‘same-sex marriage,’ as happened recently in California prior to Proposition 8. By signing Referendum 71, we will bring this society changing measure before the people of Washington State and let them make this monumental decision in November.” Not all opposition to Referendum 71 is united, however. A schism exists within Washington’s conservative Christian community, as was spelled out in a piece in Tuesday’s Seattle Times. The Times story in part points to Joseph Fuiten, a longtime outspoken voice for conservative Christianity. He states that Referendum 71 is unwinnable because of the recession and a lack of popular support. He added that political drive of many conservative Christians is fragmented at best. “As a political movement, it is a leaderless army milling about the field,” Fuiten told the Times. WFST’s Friedes added that he believes many Washingtonians personally know gays or lesbians, making them more apt to reject signing a petition. “I do think a lot of people are not signing simply because so any people know gays and lesbians as siblings, friends and co-workers. There is still work to be done, though. If we vote on it, we won’t take it for granted, it won’t be a slam dunk.” But what if the next step, if the referendum upholds the law, is for gay marriage to be forwarded by the legislature? As a veteran advocate who rallied support for Massachusetts’ first in the nation gay marriage law five years ago, Friedes already has arguments prepared. “The marriage equality movement is not an attempt to redefine marriage,” he said. “It is simply a response to changes that have occurred in the last 100 years. The institution of marriage is not static, it’s dynamic. “The greatest change in the institution of marriage has evolved from one in which male had superior legal rights to the female to an egalitarian union between two people. Once that idea of equality between partners became standard, it’s appealing in that’s what we want to do in our relationships. To make gay and lesbian people inferior in so many of the arguments by proponents on the other side does not reflect today’s realities.” That assessment, however, would likely not sit well with Randall, who was quoted last month in the Los Angeles Times as saying, “We’re not trying to take anything from anyone. We’re simply trying to defend and keep marriage as it has always been throughout all of human history.” Links: Seattle Times: Religious right: ‘a leaderless army’: http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2009506344_religiousright21m.html Protect Marriage Washington: http://www.protectmarriagewa.com/ Faith and Freedom Network: http://faithandfreedom.us/ Washington Families Standing Together: http://www.washingtonfamiliesstandingtogether.com/

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