Battle to sway voters begins as partner-benefits referendum makes ballot
The state's "everything but marriage" law, granting a wide array of benefits to same-sex couples, appears headed for a public vote, and both sides are preparing for the next phase: the campaign. The Secretary of State's Office announced Monday that Referendum 71 had enough signatures to qualify for the ballot, and the secretary on Wednesday is expected to officially certify Referendum 71 for the Nov. 3 ballot.
Seattle Times staff reporter
A tricky issueIf, as expected, Referendum 71 is on the November ballot, you will need to vote:
Yes: if you wish to keep enhanced benefits for gay and lesbian couples, or;
No: if you wish to overturn the current law that grants those benefits.
The state's "everything but marriage" law, granting a wide array of benefits to same-sex couples, appears headed for a public vote, and both sides are preparing for the next phase of battle: fundraising, phone banking, educating voters.
Although the count isn't final, the Secretary of State's Office announced Monday that Referendum 71 had 121,617 signatures — more than the 120,577 needed to qualify for the ballot.
The secretary of state is expected on Wednesday morning to officially certify R-71 for the Nov. 3 ballot.
R-71 backers are seeking to overturn a law passed by the Legislature this spring that granted same-sex, registered domestic partners, along with straight couples with at least one partner older than age 62, the same state benefits as married couples.
"I'm very pleased," said Gary Randall, one of the main organizers behind the R-71 effort. "We — meaning a lot of people across the state — worked hard on this."
State Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, a sponsor of the original legislation, said Monday that "the qualification of R-71, an attempt to turn back the rights of lesbian and gay families, marks a tragic day for our state. I believe on Election Day the voters of Washington state will vote to treat all Washington families equally, including lesbian and gay families."
The past few months have been contentious, with suspicion on both sides of the issue, threats and lawsuits.
A King County Superior Court judge will decide Wednesday whether to issue an order blocking Secretary of State Sam Reed from certifying R-71 for the ballot. Supporters of the domestic-partnership law had sued Reed, saying his office had accepted thousands of signatures that should have been rejected under state law.
On Thursday, a U.S. District Court judge is expected to rule on whether the identities of those who signed R-71 petitions should be released. R-71 backers had sued to block the release of the names, saying their disclosure could chill free speech because it's "reasonably probable" signers would be threatened and harassed.
The state Public Disclosure Commission last week denied a request by the group backing R-71 to redact and seal the identities of its donors.
But both sides agree on one thing: The hard work of educating voters begins now.
"It's full speed ahead," said Anne Levinson, chairwoman of Washington Families Standing Together, a coalition of organizations from labor to civil-rights to faith groups that support the domestic-partnership law.
Coalition members are getting the word out, going to community meetings, volunteering to call voters.
Washington Families started its phone bank, active five days a week, in Seattle about two weeks ago, Levinson said. The group plans to expand the phone bank to other counties next week.
The group plans to emphasize that repealing the law would take away "very basic protections" such as the right of a person to take sick leave to care for a partner, or the ability of a firefighter who dies in the line of duty to leave death benefits to his or her partner.
And it will stress that, although gay-rights supporters have opposed R-71 getting on the ballot, once it's there, they actually need to vote to approve it in order to retain the expanded benefits.
"It's a very short window to talk to many voters," Levinson said.
Similarly, Randall, who opposes the expanded partnership benefits, says his coalition will be working to personally reach more than 1 million voters about why they should vote no.
Protect Marriage Washington, a coalition of mostly faith-based groups, will be circulating talking points to individuals and to churches — any pastors willing to circulate them or put them in church bulletins, Randall said.
He's finalizing the points, but among them, he said, will be that the vote is not really about benefits but about marriage.
"There's a greater agenda," Randall said. The law makes domestic partnerships legally indistinguishable from marriage, he said, and thus easier for gay-marriage advocates to argue that, legally, they should be granted marriage.
Protect Marriage also will be fundraising, since its coffers are "pretty low," Randall said. Now that the referendum likely will be on the ballot, he predicted, "we'll raise more money."
The group hopes to buy ads, possibly on cable stations where it can target voters by ZIP code, he said.
"I think we have the advantage because, I'm told by experts, a 'no' vote is an easier vote to get," Randall said. "I'm hoping that's true."
Janet I. Tu: 206-464-2272 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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