R-71 gains wider lead, but foes not ready to concede

Gay Rights: King County votes expected to drive measure

November 5, 2009 

Ballot counts Wednesday showed Washington's same-sex partnership law passing with twice the margin of victory it had on election night, and one key leader in the movement declared victory.

A large count from King County and other jurisdictions such as Thurston County expanded the measure’s advantage to about 38,000 votes in the evening. Additional counts are planned today and Friday in most jurisdictions.

“These results so far track with what we were expecting to see,” Approve 71 campaign co-chairwoman Anne Levinson said Wednesday. “These numbers would reflect that Washington would be the first state in the nation to affirmatively vote to support domestic partnerships.”

“Today is a great day of celebration for the tens of thousands of gay and lesbian families in Washington, and for anyone who supports equality in our state and around the country,” added state Sen. Ed Murray, a gay Seattle Democrat who sponsored domestic-partnership legislation passed by the Legislature. An effort to repeal the legislation was forced onto the ballot as R-71 by social conservatives who disagree with the policy and said it opens the door to same-sex marriage.

“We haven’t yet walked through the gate to the promised land of full marriage equality. But, with yesterday’s vote, that gate seems more open than it was yesterday, and our goal seems closer to reality than ever,” Murray said in a statement.

Spokesmen for the Protect Marriage Washington campaign did not return a call seeking comment. But a spokesman for the Family Policy Council of Washington, which donated money to a political committee that ran Reject 71 radio ads, said no one was conceding.

“I think we’re too new to the mail-in-ballot game to really have a chance to know,” said Joseph Backholm, executive director for the Policy Council, a Lynnwood-based group that stepped in last month and gave the opposition forces a lift. “If I’m being impartial, I’d rather be them than me (given the numbers). But I think there are still enough ballots outstanding.”

Researchers at the University of Washington who publish the UW Poll project that R-71 will pass by 81,529 votes. That was based on their analysis of ballots likely remaining in 39 counties, as well as how voters have weighed in so far on the measure.

“We have R-71 eventually winning by 81,000, and this appears to be entirely driven by King County. The rest of Puget Sound is sort of a wash, barely going in favor of R-71,” professor Matt Barreto wrote. “Central and Eastern Washington appear to be way out against R-71, by margins even larger than the polls predicted.”

Backholm said he thought his group’s campaign thrust – talking about how passage of rights for same-sex couples could affect public schools and religious freedom – resonated with many voters. The leader of Protect Marriage Washington had warned that recognizing same-sex relationships was another step toward societal decay.

Rights activist Anna Schlecht and other R-71 backers held a party in Olympia to celebrate their apparent victory. On Wednesday, she said she had “just an amazing feeling. We will finally have pretty much the same citizenship rights and responsibilities as heterosexual couples.”

Under R-71, couples on the state’s domestic-partnership registry receive all of the estimated 425 state rights of married couples. About 250 of those rights – including the right to inherit a partner’s public pension and to take unpaid leave from a job to care for a partner – are added under R-71, building on rights enacted by lawmakers in 2007 and 2008.

“What it means to me is people understand that our families matter, too. It’s a wonderful feeling,” Schlecht said. “I hadn’t realized this was the first time in the United States. It’s probably the first time in the world that a large electorate has gone to the polls and really supported the rights of gay and lesbian families. … This means the world has turned. Our families finally matter. Our rights and responsibilities finally matter.”

State Sen. Dan Swecker, R-Rochester, fought Senate Bill 5688 in the Legislature this year and said he is not conceding the fight. He added that he’s disappointed at the outcome.

“Whether it passes by 1 percent or loses by 1 percent, it’s a little discouraging to see that our society has gotten to the point where basically it’s a 50-50 split – rather than just an overwhelming reinforcement of marriage,’’ Swecker said.

He called R-71 “marriage in everything but the name” and said the move to recognize same-sex couples threatens traditional marriage because it offers people more options that fall short of marital commitments.

“It’s purely a matter of sustaining marriage as we know it and preserving the traditional function,” he said. “In countries where this has happened, it has led to a de-emphasis on marriage, and fewer people get married. Marriage then ceases to provide all the vital functions for society that it traditionally has.”

The Office of the Secretary of State’s Web site showed 1.13 million ballots had been counted as of 6:24 p.m. Wednesday, and R-71 was leading by a margin of 593,956 to 556,090. An additional 395,000 ballots were on hand but not yet counted statewide, and a smaller number of ballots could still come in, as 38 of 39 counties are voting only by mail.

Brad Shannon: 360-753-1688

bshannon@theolympian.com

www.theolympian.com/politicsblog

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