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Leaders worry apathy doomed referendum
Seattle Times staff reporter
It was supposed to be an issue that would easily gain the support of conservative churchgoers: a referendum to overturn the new state law that bans discrimination against gays and lesbians.
But after Tim Eyman failed to gather enough signatures to put Referendum 65 on the fall ballot, some conservative religious leaders were wondering Wednesday if apathy was to blame. This, even though churches held "Referendum Sundays" to gather signatures for the petition drive.
"It would be easy to blame others at this time when the blame should fall squarely on us," Alec Rowlands, president of Sound the Alarm, wrote in an e-mail message to group members. Sound the Alarm is a conservative religious group that helped gather petition signatures.
"I think what we're dealing with more is apathy," said Jacinta Tegman, executive director of Sound the Alarm.
"Maybe churches [are] believing they can't make a difference or believe that what they've been told is to stay within the four walls of the church and not to live their faith outside the walls."
The Rev. Joseph Fuiten, chairman of the Faith and Freedom Network, a conservative evangelical lobbying group, said he thought the Ref. 65 campaign "never quite reached the radar screen of the churches in general."
The gay-rights law, which went into effect Wednesday, adds sexual orientation to a state law that bans discrimination based on race, gender, religion and other categories.
Fuiten said he was reluctant to take on the issue in the first place, while still waiting for a state Supreme Court decision on whether gay marriage is legal. That ruling, which has been anticipated for months, would galvanize people around the issue, he said.
"Without it, I don't think it even got to the attention of the people," Fuiten said.
It also didn't help, he said, that the state's Catholic bishops were neutral on the referendum.
But in May, the bishops issued a letter that said, "We are concerned that the signature-gathering campaign for Referendum 65 may have the effect of encouraging unjust discrimination against homosexual persons."
The statement also made clear that the bishops support the state's Defense of Marriage Act, which outlaws gay marriage.
Eyman said the Ref. 65 campaign collected more than 105,000 signatures. He needed 112,440 valid signatures to get it on the ballot.
Eyman filed the referendum, but the signature-gathering fell mainly on a coalition of conservative religious organizations.
Gary Randall, president of the Faith and Freedom Network, said church groups sent out thousands of petitions to people who asked for them.
He and Fuiten criticized Eyman's work on the campaign and suggested Eyman did not communicate well with the church organizations.
Randall couldn't be reached for comment Wednesday.
For his part, Eyman said gay rights is a controversial topic and getting the signatures was a challenge.
"When there's infighting like that on an issue, it's not very good," said Bill Dubay, a longtime gay-rights activist in Seattle.
Dubay attributes the referendum's failure to strong support of gay rights, and the fact that people in Washington don't want to put someone's rights on the ballot.
Janet I. Tu: 206-464-2272 or email@example.com. Seattle Times reporter Andrew Garber contributed to this report.
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company