OLYMPIA – As lawmakers prepare to consider a measure to legalize same-sex marriage, an Everett attorney on Monday filed an initiative seeking to clarify the definition of marriage.
Stephen Pidgeon filed the initiative with the state secretary of state’s office on the first day of the legislative session. Pidgeon previously worked with groups who unsuccessfully tried to overturn the state’s domestic partnership law with Referendum 71 in 2009.
Gov. Chris Gregoire announced last week that she would introduce a measure to legalize marriage for gay and lesbian couples.
“We believe this issue is even more volatile than domestic partnerships,” Pidgeon said. “The voters should get to vote on it. Let’s see what they think.”
The initiative seeks to change the current state statute, which says that marriage is a civil contract between a male and a female. Pidgeon wants it to be changed to “between one man and one woman.”
He said the clarification is necessary because he is concerned legalizing same sex marriage “will lead to the liberalization of marriage laws to allow for polygamy and other forms of relationships.”
Pidgeon said that even if the Legislature doesn’t take up the gay marriage issue, as it is expected to, he will still push for the initiative.
“We believe that the critical issue here is, does the word marriage have particularized meaning, and if so we need to secure that definition as a matter of law,” he said.
In November, a coalition called Washington United for Marriage announced it would lobby the Legislature to approve a gay marriage bill this year. That was followed by Gregoire’s public support of the effort last week.
The state’s underlying domestic partnership law, which the Legislature passed in 2007, provided hospital visitation rights, the ability to authorize autopsies and organ donations, and inheritance rights when there is no will. Under state law, senior heterosexual couples can register as domestic partnerships as well.
In 2009, the Legislature passed, and voters later upheld, a bill that greatly expanded those rights and was known as the “everything-but-marriage” bill. Nearly 19,000 people in Washington are registered as domestic partners.
Zack Silk, the campaign manager for Washington United for Marriage, noted the past failure of the effort to overturn domestic partnerships.
“Washington state has been really good on the issue of equality and it’s been affirmed at the ballot box,” he said. “We’re surprised that they’d want to go this route with their opposition.”
Democratic Sen. Ed Murray of Seattle, a gay lawmaker who has spearheaded past gay rights and domestic partnership laws in the state, said that he doesn’t like the idea of minority rights being decided at the ballot, but that supporters are ready.
“I think it’s going to be a battle,” Murray said. “I think it’s going to be ugly, but I think we’ll win.”
To qualify for the November ballot, sponsors must submit at least 241,153 signatures of valid registered voters by 5 p.m. July 6.