Gay-rights support stops at Cascades
Most of the counties in the state voted against expanding the state's domestic-partnership law.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Latest breakdownStatewide vote totals as of 6:30 p.m. Wednesday:
APPROVE 593,956 (52%)
REJECT 556,090 (48%)
Video | Election Night: Approve R-71
Video | Election Night: Reject R-71
Every county east of the Cascades rejected Referendum 71 — some by resounding margins.
The lopsided results over expansion of the state's domestic-partnership law, which voters overall were approving, show the challenge supporters of gay rights face in winning over all Washingtonians as they seek full equality.
The measure was capturing enough votes in 10 of the state's most populous counties to overcome rejection in the other 29, swaths that remain largely unfamiliar terrain to the gay-rights movement. They are Republican strongholds, counties with large numbers of blue-collar workers — and where opponents of Ref. 71 in recent weeks have staked new, strong claims.
Josh Friedes, campaign manager for Washington Families Standing Together, which worked to uphold the partnership law, said gaining ground in those parts of the state is a slow, steady process.
"The fact that we lost in many of those counties doesn't mean that we didn't improve our numbers or that people there are not thinking about this," he said.
"For many, this is a serious matter; it's about family and marriage and for many, religion. I think it takes time for people to move on this issue."
Passage of Ref. 71 would extend marriage-like state benefits to gay and some senior couples.
By Wednesday night, 52 percent of voters were approving it, and that figure was likely to grow, given estimates from the Secretary of State's Office that about half of some 600,000 outstanding ballots statewide were in King County, where 67 percent of voters were approving it.
Gay-rights supporters had built a strong coalition of support among labor, religious and community groups. Their strategy involved reaching out to voters whose support they could count on and encouraging them to vote. They reached out as well to seniors, who in off-election years, are still likely to vote.
While their efforts ranged across the state, their target was the Puget Sound region, where they felt confident they could win.
But now, even with victory in sight, they are keenly aware that their opponents are still in the battle.
In fact, social and religious conservatives leading the effort to defeat Ref. 71 say the campaign has revitalized their movement and that they will work to get more of their own elected to the Legislature.
"Frankly, we want Olympia to start listening to us," said Larry Stickney, who managed the campaign to defeat Ref. 71.
The campaign, he and other Ref. 71 opponents say, has not only achieved a series of legal victories that have gone as high as the U.S. Supreme Court, but has strengthened the conservative Christian network statewide, securing ties with hundreds of newer and smaller churches across the state — including in Eastern Washington.
In Spokane, where religious conservatives already had a strong base, they laid even more groundwork in recent months. In the last three weeks of the campaign, Stickney said, he spent more time in Spokane than he did in his home.
Part of the challenge facing gay-equality supporters, both here and across the country, is that not many gay families and individuals live in rural areas and smaller towns, many preferring urban centers where they feel more comfortable and have more legal protections.
Recognizing that, Equal Rights Washington, the state's leading advocacy group for gay rights, plans to open an office in Spokane, to focus educational efforts east of the mountains.
"Movement building is bigger than winning just one campaign," said Connie Watts, executive director.
Once the ballot counting has ended, "we have to do some rich analysis on the results, so we can focus on those areas where we can make progress," she said.
Even in urban areas, families and individuals, Friedes said, are often reluctant to talk publicly and openly about their lives — a reality that became clear during the campaign. The phenomenon of closeting applies not just to individuals, but to entire families as well, Friedes said.
Advocates say ongoing education also involves raising money — "and not just when there is a crisis."
"Education takes time and that means sustained funding over a period of time — a tough prospect given the scarcity of funds even during campaign season," Friedes said.
Staff reporter Janet I. Tu contributed to this story.
Lornet Turnbull: 206-464-2420 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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