Hundreds rally to reject R-71
A rally in Lynnwood Saturday against Referendum 71, which would expand benefits for same-sex and senior couples who are registered domestic partners, demonstrates the increasingly active role members of Russian-speaking conservative evangelical churches are playing in issues involving marriage and gay rights.
Seattle Times staff reporter
From children to families to the elderly, a couple of hundred demonstrators, speaking both English and Russian, gathered in Lynnwood on Saturday, carrying signs saying "Protect Children" and "Reject R-71."
"It's important — a big issue," said Aleksey Borisov, 24, a construction worker who drove all the way from Eastern Washington with several other members of Light of the Gospel, a Slavic Baptist church in Spokane, to participate.
The rally was a visible demonstration of the increasingly active role that members of Russian-speaking conservative evangelical churches are playing in marriage and gay-rights issues, including the battle over Referendum 71.
"They've been very helpful," said Larry Stickney, one of the leaders in the campaign to reject R-71. "They're helping us get a lot of literature out — door-to-door or at shopping malls, churches. They're fearless."
R-71, on the Nov. 3 ballot, asks voters whether to approve or reject a recent state law granting marriagelike benefits to same-sex and senior couples who are registered domestic partners. A vote to approve R-71 keeps the law; a vote to reject scuttles it.
Stickney says Slavic evangelical churches played a role in getting R-71 on the ballot in the first place. He recalls delivering 8,000 petitions to several such churches, which in turn, distributed them to other churches statewide, he said.
When the Secretary of State's Office was verifying names of voters who'd signed the petitions, there were so many signatures of Russian names being questioned that Stickney brought in a Russian-speaking lawyer to explain that in Russia, people signed their last name first.
At Saturday's peaceful rally, the demonstrators fanned out over several blocks, standing on the sidewalk in front of strip malls near the Lynnwood Transit Center. They were greeted by a steady stream of honks from passing cars, as well as occasional curses and a "Go to hell!"
Yuriy Stasyuk, 23, a Lynnwood resident who works in the medical field, says he organized the event because he believes the recent law sets the stage to allow gay marriage.
He and others at the rally said they believe that would lead to schools teaching that traditional marriage and same-sex relationships are the same, when they believe God created marriage between a man and a woman, and that homosexuality is a sin.
"As a citizen, I will be affected by this, and my children," Stasyuk said.
But Josh Friedes, a spokesman for the coalition supporting the expanded domestic-partnership law, said there's nothing in the law that affects school curriculums, and he pointed out that a number of religious organizations and clergy support Referendum 71.
"The domestic-partnership law is about providing basic protections to Washington's gay and lesbian and senior families," said Friedes, when reached by phone Saturday. "And the breadth of organizations that have endorsed the Approve 71 campaign" — including Childhaven, the Washington Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers — "demonstrates that those organizations that are dedicated to ensuring the health of Washington's children believe that approving Referendum 71 is in the best interest of the children."
Locally and in other U.S. cities, Russian-speaking conservative evangelical churches have been active on such issues.
Pastor Ken Hutcherson of Redmond's Antioch Bible Church, for instance, has been building a relationship with such churches over several years, resulting in ties with a network of Russian-speaking churches here and overseas. It's also resulted in a movement called Watchmen on the Walls, which takes a hard line against homosexuality and has held several conferences in the Puget Sound area, Sacramento and elsewhere.
The influx of emigrants from the former Soviet republics began in the late-1980s, when then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev allowed victims of religious persecution — among them Baptists, Pentecostals and Jews — to leave the country.
Many settled in the Pacific Northwest — in recent years, one estimate placed their number around 60,000 — with about a third being evangelical, a third Orthodox, and the rest adhering to other faiths or to none.
Oksana Leonchyk, who attends Sulamita Slavic Pentecostal Church in Mukilteo, said members of the church helped circulate petitions to get R-71 on the ballot, and some are talking to co-workers about the measure.
Borisov, the Spokane construction worker, said that a few days ago 50 to 100 pastors, youth pastors and leaders from several Russian-speaking evangelical churches gathered in Spokane to talk about what they could do to make sure R-71 is rejected.
"We're just going to do our part," he said. "Our hope is in God."
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