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Originally published Thursday, August 27, 2009 at 6:58 PM

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Supporters of gay partnerships sue over referendum

Supporters of the state's expanded domestic partnership law sued elections officials Thursday, hoping to keep a referendum of the law off the November ballot.

Associated Press Writer

OLYMPIA, Wash. —

Supporters of the state's expanded domestic partnership law sued elections officials Thursday, hoping to keep a referendum of the law off the November ballot.

The political group Washington Families Standing Together sued Secretary of State Sam Reed in King County Superior Court, alleging that Reed has accepted thousands of signatures that were not in compliance with state law.

"Referendum 71 should only be on the ballot if it has qualified based on legally valid signatures," the group's chairwoman, Anne Levinson, said in a written statement.

The request for the temporary injunction claims that, out of more than 137,000 petition signatures submitted by initiative sponsors, Reed accepted "thousands of signatures on petitions where the required declarations were either left blank, not signed by the person who circulated the petitions or not signed by the declarant."

The suit also claims that some accepted signatures belong to people who were not registered voters when they signed the petitions.

"Because of the limited number of signatures turned in, failure to enforce these laws could well lead to a measure being qualified for the ballot that should not be, and that measure has the potential to strip away important protections from thousands of families all across the state," Levinson said.

The case was assigned to King County Superior Court Judge Julie Spector, with hearings expected early next week.

The referendum's sponsor, a group called Protect Marriage Washington, wants a public vote on the expanded partnerships, in hopes of overturning broader domestic partnerships for gay couples.

Partnership opponents submitted their petition signatures last month. The campaign needs 120,577 valid signatures to make the fall ballot, and so far, more than 103,000 signatures have been accepted. Reed's staff says the signature-checking process should be completed by Tuesday.

"The focus of our office continues to be on completing this signature check in a fair and accurate manner, and to facilitate our state's important initiative and referendum process as well as we can," said Nick Handy, the state elections director.

The lawsuit comes just hours after the state Public Disclosure Commission ruled that Protect Marriage Washington can't keep its political donors' names secret.

Stephen Pidgeon, an attorney for the group, told members of the campaign finance regulatory commission that supporters of the campaign to qualify Referendum 71 have received harassing phone calls and e-mails, and death threats.

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"What is taking place in the state of Washington is voter intimidation and voter oppression and First Amendment rights suppression," he said.

Pidgeon asked that the group be required only to make public the campaign donors' initials, home city and state. The group would then file a second document with the PDC with the full names for the state to keep under seal.

But regulators unanimously rejected the request, saying the group didn't show it would suffer an unreasonable hardship if the names were made public under state campaign finance laws.

"It seems to me that granting this would mean that in any case where what's before the public is an emotional issue, there would be no public disclosure," said commission member Ken Schellberg.

Pidgeon said he wasn't surprised by the ruling, and said Protect Marriage Washington was still weighing the next step, which could include an appeal of the decision in federal court.

The group initially turned in financial disclosure forms earlier this month with just initials, but has since amended their filing with the donors' full names.

Protect Marriage Washington has raised more than $35,000 in expectation of a campaign, should the measure make the ballot. Washington Families Standing Together has raised nearly $89,000.

Referendum 71 sponsors are fighting on several fronts to shield the names of people who support overturning the domestic partnership law.

Protect Marriage Washington also is trying to prevent the release of the names of people who signed the petitions to get the referendum on the ballot. A political group called WhoSigned.Org has said it will publish online those names.

The petition-listing effort is not supported by the official campaign that has tried to keep R-71 off the ballot. A federal judge has granted a temporary restraining order to bar the release of signatures on R-71 petitions, and a hearing on that case will be held in Tacoma next Thursday.

The new law was scheduled to take effect July 26, but it has been delayed until officials can verify whether there are enough valid signatures to put R-71 on the November ballot. If there are enough signatures, the law will be delayed until the outcome of the Nov. 3 election.

The new domestic partnership law expands on Washington's existing domestic partnerships for gay couples, which were established in 2007. 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.

As of this week, more than 5,800 domestic partnership registrations had been filed in Washington since the first law took effect in July 2007.

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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

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