Opponents of gay-marriage law get unexpected aid: from Muslims
The Referendum 74 campaign to roll back the state's same-sex marriage law says it has surpassed the minimum number of signatures needed to qualify for the November ballot — with some of that support coming from the state's Muslims, who traditionally have remained silent on this issue.
Seattle Times staff reporter
With less than two weeks to go, organizers of the Referendum 74 campaign to roll back the state's same-sex-marriage law say they have surpassed the minimum number of signatures needed to qualify for the November ballot — with thousands more rolling in each day.
Some of that support is coming in from an unexpected place: Muslims, who as a community have traditionally remained silent on the question of gay marriage.
In recent weeks, several area mosques have requested thousands of Ref. 74 petitions to circulate among their members, and through November, Muslims plan to campaign alongside religious conservatives seeking to overturn the law.
On Wednesday, Preserve Marriage Washington, which is seeking to repeal the gay-marriage law with backing from the National Organization for Marriage, was reporting 127,211 signatures — 6,634 names more than the minimum required to qualify for the ballot. Organizers need to get — and the Secretary of State encourages — at least 150,000 signatures to ensure a sufficient number of them are from qualified registered voters.
"The number is changing daily," campaign manager Joseph Backholm said. "It's now only a question of whether we'll have time to count them all and stick the number on our website every day."
The same-sex-marriage law, which the Legislature passed in February, is set to take effect June 7 — unless Preserve Marriage can collect enough signatures by June 6, which would put the measure on hold until the November election.
Counties across the state are keeping an eye on the campaign because they have to be prepared for same-sex couples lining up outside their offices for marriage licenses if the petition drive fails.
Another group is circulating petitions on Initiative 1192, a similar but separate ballot measure that would reaffirm the definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman. Its backers have until July 6 to collect at least 241,153 signatures, with up to 300,000 necessary to ensure coverage.
Washington United for Marriage, which is seeking to protect the state's same-sex-marriage law, did not mount a counter effort; they believe referendum backers will hit their numbers.
Rather, they are asking supporters to indicate their support online and are prepared to mount a campaign through November with gay couples telling their stories to the public.
Backholm said while most of the signatures collected to this point were gathered by volunteers — including collections in hundreds of churches, and mosques — the campaign hired some signature gatherers to "overcome an unacceptable risk" of not hitting their mark.
"In the end it won't matter, but we did buy a bundle of petitions," he said. "There's no real question the measure will qualify."
He believes the I-1192 campaign hurt the referendum because some people who support the overall goal of both measures were confused.
"It was inevitable," Backholm said. "People don't know the difference between them. In the end, it was not fatal."
One of the most surprising developments in the campaign is an alliance with Muslims in the state.
While Islamic leaders in this country have been reluctant to speak out against gay marriage, their religion considers it haram — forbidden.
Aziz Junejo, a frequent speaker on Islam, who hosts a weekly cable-television show and writes a Faith & Values column for The Seattle Times, said the majority of Muslims want to support Ref. 74.
"It's pretty clear from an Islamic perspective we have to support this issue because Islamic marriage is between a man and a woman," Junejo said.
Estimates of the number of Muslims in the state vary widely, but most put the number at more than 50,000.
Backholm said Muslim leaders took the initiative and reached out to the Ref. 74 campaign, not only requesting thousands of petitions to be circulated in their mosques, but offering to work in partnership through November.
"Christians and the Muslims have not always worked that well together," he said. "Here is a place of commonality. We are building bridges."
Lornet Turnbull: 206-464-2420 or email@example.com. On Twitter @turnbull