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Effort to repeal state gay-rights law gathers momentum from pulpit
Seattle Times staff reporter
OLYMPIA — A referendum campaign aimed at repealing Washington's gay-rights law has no paid signature gatherers, no advertising budget and not much money in the bank. Yet supporters say signatures are rolling in by the thousands.
The reason? The Faith and Freedom Network and Sound the Alarm, two conservative religious groups that existed before the measure was filed, say they are leading an extensive grass-roots campaign, urging congregations throughout Washington to sign petitions and volunteer.
During services at Northshore Baptist Church in Bothell on Sunday, the pastor urged congregants to sign Referendum 65 petitions that filled a table in the lobby.
The Faith and Freedom Network and Sound the Alarm are encouraging similar signature-gathering efforts across the state.
Officials with both nonprofit groups say Tim Eyman, who filed the referendum and created a political-action committee to support it, has little to do with their campaign.
"I don't know what Eyman is doing. We're not cooperating with Tim at all on what we're doing," said Gary Randall, president of the Faith and Freedom Network.
Supporters have until June 6 to collect the signatures of 112,440 registered voters to qualify for the November ballot.
Randall said Eyman, who is best known for pushing anti-tax initiatives, was simply the first person to file a ballot measure with the secretary of state after lawmakers passed House Bill 2661 in January. The legislation adds sexual orientation to a state law that bans discrimination based on race, gender, religion and other categories.
"We're supporting it [Referendum 65] because we support what it represents," Randall said.
Eyman's political-action committee, Let the Voters Decide, has raised less than $4,000 in contributions toward the referendum.
"People in groups can choose to either directly donate to us or go out on their own and push and promote the initiative," Eyman said. "I don't care. Good. We're all shooting for the same goal, to get the thing qualified for the ballot."
Anne Levinson, campaign chairwoman of the opposition group, Washington Won't Discriminate, said Referendum 65 likely will make the ballot, given the efforts of the various religious organizations.
Her group has raised more than $100,000 to battle the referendum. Supporters have until June 6 to turn in signatures of at least 112,440 registered voters to qualify for the November ballot.
The religious groups and churches that oppose the gay-rights law have an enormous capacity to gather petition signatures on their own.
That was clear at the Northshore Baptist Church, where more than 2,600 people attended its regular services Sunday.
The church held three services in a large auditorium with balcony seating. Hundreds of people packed the 9:30 a.m. service as Senior Pastor Jan Hettinga urged them to sign petitions to get Referendum 65 on the ballot.
"This is about intolerance of the Christian world view. It's about codifying into law the acceptance of a behavior so that we cannot say it is wrong. That is what we're objecting to," he said.
The congregation also watched a video on a large screen. The presentation, prepared by Sound the Alarm, featured a Seattle attorney who outlined the group's arguments for supporting the referendum.
"House Bill 2661 provides legal protection to school teachers who begin the year as women but desire to end it as men," the attorney warned at one point. "Your child may have a cross dresser as a teacher, and there's nothing you can do about."
A long table filled with Referendum 65 petitions in the church lobby was mobbed with people after the service.
Kyle Netterfield said he signed the petition. "The Legislature and governor have said that those who believe homosexuality is an immutable characteristic are right, and we're wrong and we're not allowed to say this is sinful conduct," said Netterfield, an overseer at the church.
"We have a real concern that our freedom to hold to or act upon our sincerely held religious beliefs are going to be significantly infringed," he said.
Levinson, with Washington Won't Discriminate, said the new state law does not infringe upon free speech. "It simply protects people from being fired or kicked out of their housing" because of their sexual orientation, she said.
Her organization has the support of many religious groups and other organizations, including the Washington Association of Churches, the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, the Greater Seattle Business Association and the Washington Education Association.
The type of campaigning that occurred at the Northshore Baptist Church on Sunday is being replicated across the state. In addition, Randall said members of his group and Sound the Alarm have traveled Washington to hold rallies supporting the referendum. "We're putting a lot into it," he said.
Sound the Alarm has distributed its DVDs to more than 5,000 churches. "If 500 of those 5,000 churches responded and were able to get 200 signatures, that's the mark right there practically," said Jacinta Tegman, the group's executive director.
There's nothing in federal law that prohibits churches and other nonprofits from urging people to sign petitions for a ballot measure, said Marcus Owens, an attorney at the Washington, D.C., firm of Caplin and Drysdale. Owens worked as an Internal Revenue Service attorney for 25 years and was director of the agency's exempt-organizations division from 1990-2000.
Tegman said her group was within its rights to produce and send out the DVDs.
However, Doug Ellis, assistant director at the state Public Disclosure Commission, said Sound the Alarm does need to report the DVDs sent to churches as a contribution.
Steven O'Ban, an attorney representing Sound the Alarm, said he plans to file paperwork with the state today reporting the DVDs as an independent expenditure.
Andrew Garber: 360-943-9882 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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