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Originally published October 24, 2009 at 12:12 AM | Page modified October 24, 2009 at 12:35 AM

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Religion no litmus test on Ref. 71

While opposition to Referendum 71 has largely been driven by religious conservatives and much attention has been paid to their efforts, there also are many people of faith who support the referendum.

Seattle Times staff reporter

What the actual ballot language states

The Legislature passed Engrossed Second Substitute Senate Bill 5688 concerning rights and responsibilities of state-registered domestic partners and voters have filed a sufficient referendum petition on this bill. This bill would expand the rights, responsibilities and obligations accorded state-registered same-sex and senior domestic partners to be equivalent to those of married spouses, except that a domestic partnership is not a marriage.

Should this bill be:

Approved ___ Rejected ___

Source: Secretary of State's Office

Understanding Ref. 71

Referendum 71 will ask voters to approve or reject the latest expansion of Washington's domestic-partnership law. This expansion would allow registered gay couples and senior couples to use sick leave to care for each other, to claim one another's death benefits and to enjoy other privileges and responsibilities the state now confers on married couples — everything except the name "marriage."

A vote to "approve" supports expanding the law.

A vote to "reject" opposes expanding the law.

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In the past several weeks, Jessica Gavre, director of the social-justice program at First United Methodist Church in Tacoma, has knocked on doors, hosted a fundraiser at her church and handed out inserts for church bulletins — all on behalf of Referendum 71.

She and others at her church have urged fellow faith leaders to preach sermons and write letters to the editor about the importance of upholding the recent expansion of the state's domestic-partnership law for same-sex and senior couples.

"Our faith community believes that all people deserve equal rights and protection under the law," Gavre said.

While opposition to R-71 has been largely driven by religious conservatives, and much attention has been paid to their efforts, there are also many people of faith who support the referendum.

About 200 clergy and religious organizations — including the Church Council of Greater Seattle and the Washington Association of Churches — have signed on to a statement supporting R-71.

The Approve 71 campaign has left it up to individual congregations and their clergy or members to decide how best to show support.

Some faith leaders have preached about it, held educational forums or are participating in rallies, including one planned for Sunday at East Shore Unitarian Church in Bellevue. Proceeds from a Monday screening of the new movie "Oy Vey! My Son is Gay!," co-sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, will benefit the Approve 71 campaign.

"There's this huge fallacy that the debate about gay rights is a debate between gay and lesbian people and secular people on the one side, and people of faith on the other," said Josh Friedes, spokesman for the coalition to approve R-71. "The truth is very, very different."

R-71 asks voters to approve or reject a recent law expanding the state benefits — mostly work-related — granted to registered gay and senior couples.

It's been called the "everything but marriage" law because it grants the same state — though not federal — benefits given to married couples.

Many people of faith have expressed opposition to the law — including the state's five Roman Catholic bishops — seeing it as a bridge to same-sex marriage, which they believe is unbiblical.

"Those that adhere to 2,000 years of Christian traditional doctrine would line up with us," said Larry Stickney, a leader in the campaign to reject R-71.

But many other believers support the domestic-partnership law, saying the referendum is not about marriage but about equality — which the Bible calls them to work toward.

"The church has a role in creating a society that's just and fair. To me, this referendum's about that," said Bishop Greg Rickel of the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia in Western Washington. "All Ref. 71's trying to do is give them [gay and lesbian couples] some of the equal protections that help them function as a committed couple in society. I'm for that."

At Temple Beth Am in Seattle, Rabbi Jonathan Singer talked about the issue during a recent High Holy Days service.

"Our people, having experienced privation and oppression, know more than others what it means when a majority tries to take rights away from a minority," he said.

Janet I. Tu: 206-464-2272 or jtu@seattletimes.com

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