A Thurston County judge has fine-tuned language for a ballot measure that seeks to limit marriages in Washington to heterosexual couples. The decision paves the way for Initiative 1192 sponsors to circulate petitions. But it might only be a dry run – as a larger ballot fight looms over Referendum 74, which specifically seeks to repeal the Legislature’s new same-sex marriage law.
Judge Tom McPhee approved a ballot title wording Wednesday afternoon in Superior Court for I-1192. He rewrote the Attorney General’s Office language to make clear the issue at hand is whether to bar same-sex marriages. As approved by McPhee, the ballot and initiative petitions will say:
Initiative Measure No. 1192 concerns marriage for same-sex couples.
This measure would define marriage as a civil contract between one man and one woman and would prohibit marriage for same-sex couples.
Should this measure be enacted into law? Yes [ ] No [ ]
Ballot measure summary
This measure would define marriage as a civil contract between one man and one woman. It would also prohibit marriage for same-sex couples.
Everett lawyer Stephen Pidgeon, sponsor of I-1192, could not be reached today to comment on how soon he might circulate the petitions. Records on file at the state Public Disclosure Commission show he has not filed to raise money, which may be essential for a serious campaign. Pidgeon’s proposal needs 241,153 valid voter signatures by 5 p.m. July 6 to qualify for the Nov. 6 ballot.
I-1192 is expected to be overshadowed by Referendum 74, which is sponsored by Preserve Marriage Washington, a coalition of religious conservatives. R-74 backers filed their referendum proposal on Monday in a bid to block Washington’s new same-sex marriage law from taking effect June 7. The R-74 group has connections to the National Organization for Marriage and deep pockets to finance a campaign that both sides expect to run in the millions of dollars.
If R-74 receives at least 121,577 valid voter signatures by June 6, it automatically puts the new marriage rights law in limbo and submits the law to voters statewide for approval or rejection in November.
Anne Levinson, a lawyer who chaired the successful R-71 campaign that retained domestic partnership rights in 2009, said the I-1192 language approved by McPhee is in line with what her allies were seeking. But McPhee did decline to honor lawyer Paul Lawrence’s request to write that I-1192 would eliminate a right just passed by the Legislature.
Levinson dismissed the idea that she and Lawrence did not get all they wanted. Lawrence argued in court on behalf of four petitions challenging the AG's wording - including Alec and Gabi Clayton, retired Rev. Gilbert Rossing and Beth Rossing, all of Olympia.
“Our goal was to make sure the ballot title was as clear and understandable as possible,” Levinson said, “For us the most important thing is it explicitly says that if you approve this it will prohibit marriage for same-sex couples.’’
Jeff Even, a senior assistant attorney general, defended the state’s original language. But Even said McPhee’s final language, which cannot be appealed, is a “fair result.”
Even said he expects his office to roll out proposed ballot language for R-74 on Tuesday, giving both sides five working days – or until Feb. 28 – to challenge it in court.
Gary Randall of the Faith and Freedom Network, an evangelical Christian group, is supporting both measures. In an email this week, he said: “I, personally, and Faith and Freedom are supporting both efforts. Our board discussed these matters last night and feel that each have a [role] to play in protecting natural marriage. We will be actively advocating that people sign both petitions and will be advocating for their success on the November ballot.”
Gov. Chris Gregoire signed Senate Bill 6239 into law Monday, making Washington the seventh state plus the District of Columbia to recognize same-sex marriages.
UPDATED to correct spelling of Beth Rossing's name and add hometowns.