Historic day for gay marriage as another fight looms
Opponents of same-sex marriage are using all the tools at their disposal to try to stop gays from marrying in Washington state.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Referendums and initiatives: What they do
Initiatives and referendums are two ways citizens can make changes in state law through a popular vote.
Referendums allow voters to repeal or affirm measures recently passed by the Legislature.
Initiatives allow people to initiate legislation or to change existing law, either by placing a proposal directly on the ballot or submitting it to the Legislature for that body to approve.
This year, referendum supporters have until June 6 to collect 120,577 valid signatures in order to qualify a measure for the November ballot. Initiative backers have a month longer to collect twice as many valid signatures — 241,153 — by July 6.
Two potentially conflicting measures related to same-sex marriage could appear on the November ballot — one seeking an up-or-down vote of the people on new legislation legalizing gay marriages and another to reaffirm current state law rejecting such marriages.
At the very least, their possible appearance on the same ballot could confuse voters, who — regardless of their position on same-sex marriage — could find themselves voting in favor of one and against the other.
The strategizing by opponents of same-sex marriage comes amid widespread celebration by gays and their supporters as the state House of Representatives on Wednesday passed a landmark bill legalizing same-sex marriage. Gov. Chris Gregoire is expected to sign the legislation next week.
Stephen Pidgeon, an attorney and candidate for state attorney general who opposes same-sex marriage, said he is moving ahead with the initiative to clarify that marriage is between one man and one woman, rather than between a male and a female — language in the existing law he considers more ambiguous.
Signature collection on the measure, Initiative 1192, is likely to proceed this spring and summer alongside work on a referendum that same-sex marriage opponents have said they'll mount to repeal the just-passed same-sex marriage law.
"Our initiative and referendum are separate — but not equal," Pidgeon said of the two, twisting and mocking a civil-rights refrain used by gay-marriage supporters to describe what they say has been the unequal state of marriage in Washington.
Pidgeon is part of a loose coalition of religious conservatives and groups across the state that unsuccessfully fought to undo portions of the state's domestic-partnership law in 2009 and that will likely be part of the effort to repeal the same-sex marriage law through a referendum.
Anne Levinson, a former judge and leader in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, said gay-marriage opponents are clearly trying to confuse voters by pushing two measures that speak to the same issue.
"Having both together on the ballot would make it that much more difficult for voters to understand the impact of their decision," she said.
If both measures do end up on the same ballot, it's possible that voters could retain same-sex marriage through the referendum, while upholding the state statute that outlaws such marriages.
"It's a potential train wreck," said David Ammons, spokesman for the Secretary of State's Office.
Washington has never had conflicting ballot results and has no law governing such scenarios — as some other states do. In California, for example, when there's such conflict on ballot measures, the one with the most votes takes effect.
In Washington, it would be up to the Legislature and courts to sort it out, Ammons said. Additionally, while the Legislature could try again next year to pass same-sex marriage if voters reject it in a referendum, it would require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to undo the result of a voter initiative, he said.
Pidgeon acknowledges that people could be confused by the simultaneous ballot measures on gay marriage — but he doesn't think that confusion would be significant. "We have confidence in Washington voters," he said. "Even the least informed has a gut feeling about these things."
With his initiative, Pidgeon said he seeks to clarify language in the state's Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between a male and a female. The terms — male and female — can be ambiguous and "subject to debate," Pidgeon said. He is seeking to change them to read "one man" and "one woman" — making it clear it's not "one man and two women ... " or some other combination, he said.
He is challenging the ballot title the secretary of state has applied to his initiative and has a hearing scheduled for Friday in Thurston County Superior Court.
The title now reads: "This measure would define marriage as a civil contract between one man and one woman and prohibit marriage when the parties are persons other than one man and one woman."
Pidgeon objects to the inclusion of the word "prohibit" to describe what his initiative would do. He's not putting forth any new prohibition and his initiative doesn't change the status quo, he said.
"It's misleading to tell the public that we're trying to create a new prohibition."
Lornet Turnbull: 206-464-2420 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @turnbullL.