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Originally published January 28, 2012 at 8:08 PM | Page modified January 28, 2012 at 8:10 PM

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Dems take McKenna's comment on gay marriage out of context

Truth Needle: The state Democratic Party claims that Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna has equated same-sex marriage with polygamy and incest. That statement is false.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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The claim: The chairman of the state Democratic Party, in an email last week, said Republican gubernatorial candidate and current Attorney General Rob McKenna has equated same-sex marriage with polygamy and incest. In a tweet earlier this month, the Democrats claimed McKenna said gay marriage "could lead to polygamy & incest."

What we found: False.

The Democrats have been attacking McKenna over his opposition to gay marriage as the state Legislature considers a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage.

The email from Democratic Party chairman Dwight Pelz was sent to supporters and others last Monday, the day that gay-marriage advocates learned they apparently have enough votes to pass the legislation when it comes up for a vote later this session.

The email says: "Rob McKenna believes that same-sex couples don't deserve equal rights. In fact, he has fought to preserve discrimination in state law and has even gone so far as to equate marriage equality to polygamy and incest."

McKenna has consistently opposed same-sex marriage, and his office has defended in court the state's current ban on gay marriage. But the statement by the Democrats takes his comments about a judicial ruling out of context, giving a false impression that he has likened gay marriage to incest and polygamy.

The claim is rooted in a 2004 newspaper article that appeared shortly after the state's 1998 Defense of Marriage Act — which allows marriage only between a man and a woman — was found unconstitutional by a King County Superior Court judge. In his ruling, Judge William Downing said the state had no compelling interest to deny marriage rights to same-sex couples.

McKenna was running for attorney general at the time, and along with other candidates for the office, was asked his opinion on the ruling, which was later overturned by the state Supreme Court.

The Seattle Times article said McKenna "criticized the ruling wording as too broad and said its argument that there is no compelling interest to deny marriage to two people in a committed relationship could leave marriage open to blood relatives and those practicing polygamy."

McKenna is quoted as saying that the ruling "threatens to destroy all standards we apply to the right of marriage."

McKenna has said previously that those comments were in reference to the judge's ruling. In an interview on KUOW last year, he said, "I don't think that same-sex partnerships or, for that matter, if you had same-sex marriage, that that would result in, or naturally lead to polygamy or other problems of the sort."

State Democratic Party spokeswoman Reesa Kossoff maintained that McKenna was clearly equating gay marriage with polygamy and incest.

"He is making a comparison that this is what it's going to lead to," she said.

Randy Pepple, McKenna's campaign manager, said McKenna was speaking only of the ruling's effect of effectively removing any definition of marriage.

The state Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, overturned Downing's ruling in 2006. The state Legislature first approved domestic partnerships in 2007, and passed the "everything but marriage law" in 2009 that gives same-sex couples the same rights and benefits as married couples. An effort to repeal the law by referendum was defeated.

McKenna said he voted to retain the state's domestic-partnership law, but he has long been opposed to allowing people of the same sex to marry. His gubernatorial opponent, Democratic U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee, supports gay marriage.

Last year, McKenna said the state should continue to deny marriage rights to same-sex couples.

"It has to do with families," he said at the time. "It has to do with reproduction of children. It has to do with stability."

McKenna said the issue should be put before voters in the form of a referendum this fall. On Wednesday, he said he would vote no if it were put to a vote.

Because McKenna was speaking about the ruling in 2004 and not gay marriage in general, we find the claim based on the 2004 article to be false.

Susan Kelleher: 206-464-2508 or skelleher@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @susankelleher.

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