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Originally published Saturday, July 25, 2009 at 3:30 PM

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Wash. gay partnership foes turn in signatures

Sponsors of a campaign to overturn the state's recent "everything but marriage" domestic partnership law turned in their petition signatures Saturday and said they believe they have enough to force a public vote.

Associated Press Writer

OLYMPIA, Wash. —

Sponsors of a campaign to overturn the state's recent "everything but marriage" domestic partnership law turned in their petition signatures Saturday and said they believe they have enough to force a public vote.

The signatures for Referendum 71 were turned in to the Washington state secretary of state's office Saturday afternoon. The new expanded domestic partnership law was scheduled to take effect Sunday, but is now delayed until the signatures can be counted.

To qualify for the November ballot, they must have 120,577 valid voter signatures, and election officials have suggested that referendum sponsors turn in about 150,000 as a buffer.

If they have enough signatures, the law will be delayed until the outcome of the election.

The signatures were turned in a day after opponents of the new law announced a final push to force a public vote, calling their effort so far "too close to call."

In a statement to supporters, organizers of the Referendum 71 campaign said that it was "too close to call" and that they needed people to show up on Saturday at the Capitol to turn in their signatures.

The new "everything but marriage" expansion of domestic partnerships is scheduled to take effect Sunday, but the law will be delayed if referendum sponsors turn in their petitions.

If the campaign has enough valid signatures, the law would not take effect unless approved by voters in the November election.

"We think there's a good chance that we will qualify," Randall said.

Once the secretary of state's office receives the signatures Saturday, they will go into a vault. The process of counting and verifying them begins next week, and verification could go until the last week of August, said Brian Zylstra, a spokesman for the secretary of state's office.

If they don't have enough signatures, the domestic partnership expansion will immediately take effect. If the measure does qualify, voters will be asked to either approve or reject the new law.

Josh Friedes, a spokesman for Washington Families Standing Together, said that if the referendum does end up on the ballot, he is optimistic that voters will retain the law.

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"We do not believe that the mere qualification of the referendum is a barometer of public opinion on the subject of protecting gay and lesbian families," he said.

The new domestic partnership law expands on Washington's existing partnerships. The newest version adds registered domestic partners to all remaining areas of state law that presently apply only to married couples. Those statutes range from adoption and child support rights and obligations, to pensions and other public employee benefits.

The underlying domestic partnership law, which passed the Legislature two years ago, provided hospital visitation rights, the ability to authorize autopsies and organ donations, and inheritance rights when there is no will.

Last year, lawmakers expanded it to give domestic partners standing under laws covering probate and trusts, community property and guardianship.

Under state law, opposite-gender seniors also can register as domestic partners.

Sen. Ed Murray, a Seattle Democrat and gay lawmaker who spearheaded the original law, said the state has taken an incremental approach in the domestic partnerships "so we could engage citizens in a conversation and not a cultural war."

"What proponents of Referendum 71 want to do is engage in a cultural war," he said.

The referendum wouldn't overturn the underlying domestic partnership and its first expansion. But it would roll back the additional rights granted this year.

As of this week, more than 5,700 domestic partnership registrations had been filed in Washington since the first law took effect in July 2007.

A political group called WhoSigned.Org has already said it will publish online the names of people who signed petitions for the referendum. It is patterned after campaigns in other states where gay rights ballot measures have been proposed. Friedes said the petition-listing effort is not supported by the official campaign trying to keep R-71 off the ballot.

Domestic partnership opponents could have their names and other information published by the Web site only after R-71 petitions are verified by the secretary of state's office. At that point, the signed petitions are public records.

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The domestic partnership bill is Senate Bill 5688.

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On the Net:

Legislature: http://www.leg.wa.gov

Washington Families Standing Together: http://www.wafst.org

Protect Marriage Washington: http://www.protectmarriagewa.com/

Domestic partnership information: http://www.secstate.wa.gov/corps/domesticpartnerships

WhoSigned.Org: http://www.whosigned.org

Copyright © The Seattle Times Company

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