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Originally published January 9, 2012 at 9:22 PM | Page modified January 9, 2012 at 11:16 PM

Initiative filed against proposed gay-marriage bill

As the Legislature prepares to take up a bill legalizing same-sex marriage, a gay-marriage opponent on Monday filed an initiative in an attempt to ensure the issue is brought before voters in November, should lawmakers approve it.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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As the Legislature prepares to take up a bill legalizing same-sex marriage, a gay-marriage opponent on Monday filed an initiative in an attempt to ensure the issue is brought before voters in November, should lawmakers approve it.

The filing by Everett attorney Stephen Pidgeon comes a week after Gov. Chris Gregoire said she would propose same-sex marriage legislation for Washington state.

The proposed initiative, not yet numbered, would reaffirm the state's Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between "a male" and "a female." The initiative seeks to slightly tweak the statute's language, changing it to "one man" and "one woman."

Congress passed and President Clinton signed the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in 1996, barring federal recognition of same-sex marriages and allowing states to do the same.

Last year, the Obama administration announced it will not defend the law.

Washington state passed its own DOMA in 1998, one of 37 states to pass such a law.

Pidgeon did not immediately return calls Monday. To qualify for the November ballot, his initiative backers would need to collect signatures from 241,153 registered voters by early July.

Key anti-gay-marriage activists said they were unaware of the strategy behind the initiative.

Some hinted at concerns that Gregoire might include an emergency clause in the bill. Such a move would make the bill effective immediately once signed by the governor, giving opponents no time to collect signatures for a referendum.

At least one Democratic lawmaker, state Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, has said she is unwilling to support any gay-marriage bill that didn't allow a vote of the people.

Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, who will sponsor the bill in the Senate, confirmed Monday that it does not include an emergency provision.

"We want to allow citizens, should the measure pass, to collect signatures for a referendum," Murray said.

"Our hope is to pass a bill here (in Washington) without a referendum," he added.

Murray said he expects the bill will be introduced Wednesday or Thursday and acknowledged he's still "short some votes. I think we'll get there, but we're not there yet."

The law would allow gay and lesbian couples to obtain civil marriage licenses in Washington, bringing the state in line with six others and the District of Columbia where gays already can wed.

The proposed legislation does not require any religious organization to marry same-sex couples or recognize same-sex marriages.

A strong coalition of same-sex marriage supporters organized late last year under Washington United for Marriage to get same-sex marriage passed in the Legislature this year.

At the same time, their opponents have vowed to fight the measure in the Legislature and before voters, if it comes to that.

Lornet Turnbull: 206-464-2420 or lturnbull@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @turnbull.

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