A political fight over the rights of same-sex couples is drawing nearer in Washington.
Backers of Referendum 71, who want to overturn a new state same-sex partnership law, have made an appointment to file signatures with state elections officials Saturday afternoon, elections officials said Monday.
Saturday is the deadline to collect 120,577 valid voter signatures and qualify for the Nov. 3 state ballot.
Larry Stickney, leader of Protect Marriage Washington, which is sponsoring R-71, did not respond to telephone calls or an e-mail on Monday. But Gary Randall of the allied Faith and Freedom Network said by e-mail: “We are gathering and counting signatures. I think we are making good progress.”
Protect Marriage has raised just more than $20,000 for a campaign that so far has been waged mostly through churches, according to Stickney. Randall said the group is not anti-gay but pro-marriage. The group wants voters to reject Senate Bill 5688, the “everything but marriage” legislation that passed this year and adds about 250 rights of marriage for registered same-sex partners in Washington.
Defenders of the new state law, who call themselves Washington Families Standing Together, say they are ready to defend the third round of rights lawmakers added since creating the partners registry in 2007.
“It wouldn’t undo the first two years” of rights approved by state lawmakers, Washington Families spokesman Josh Friedes said. “But it would be devastating to families protected under the domestic partnership law. It would deny registered domestic partners essential protections that other families take for granted. What we are talking about are things like pension rights and family medical leave, a whole host of benefits for public sector employees, particularly important to first-responders, firefighters and paramedics.”
The first two domestic partner laws added a total of about 200 rights, including rights to visit partners in the hospital and rights dealing with end-of-life and property-transfer issues. But none of the laws addresses the more than 1,100 federal rights under tax codes, federal pensions, private-sector pensions and other laws that state legislation cannot affect, Friedes said.
The domestic partners law giving rights to same-sex couples also gives them to opposite-sex couples with one person age 62 or older.
The R-71 challenge in Washington appears to run against the preferences of a majority of voters – if the Washington Poll results of last October are an indication. That poll of 600 voters by a department of the University of Washington’s social-research school showed 37 percent of voters approve of giving “gay and lesbian couples” the same legal right to marry as heterosexual or “straight” couples; another 29 percent think same-sex couples should have the same legal rights as heterosexuals but that they not be called marriage.
Yet another 11 percent favored at least domestic partnerships, meaning that a supermajority of 77 percent favored at least domestic partnerships to provide some rights of marriage. Just 21 percent said there should be no legal recognition of same-sex couples. The poll had an error margin of plus or minus 4 percent.
David Ammons, spokesman for the Office of the Secretary of State, said Protect Marriage Washington made an appointment to turn in signatures at 2 p.m. Saturday. The agency will open its Capitol office specifically for that purpose, holding the petitions in its vault until it is able to send out the petitions for copying and electronic imaging next week, which is the first step toward counting signatures and checking their validity.
Once the imaging work is done, the agency could release the names of the R-71 signers to whosigned.org, a group that plans to publish the names.
Leaders at the state elections office have said previously they do not want to see voters threatened or harassed for signing petitions, but Ammons said the names of signers would be released if a lawful public-records request is submitted.
Washington Families has raised almost $34,630 for its campaign, according to campaign-finance data on file with the state Public Disclosure Commission.
Washington Families also released a list of 114 groups supporting its side, including the Washington State Council of Fire Fighters, the Children’s Alliance, Senior Services, and the Washington Education Association.
The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that a half-dozen states, including Massachusetts and Iowa, can issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, three jurisdictions recognize such marriages from other states, four states allow civil unions, and three states including Washington provide nearly all state-level rights to same-sex partners.
Brad Shannon: 360-753-1688
On the net
• For information on the Protect Marriage Washington campaign to invalidate Washington’s newest domestic partnership law, go to protectmarriagewa.com/ or www.valuesaction.org. This group sponsored Referendum 71.
• For details on the Washington Families Standing Together campaign to protect the state’s domestic partnership rights, go to washingtonfamiliesstandingtogether.com.
• For a look at what other states are doing, go to the National Conference of State Legislature’s site at www.ncsl.org/IssuesResearch/HumanServices/SameSexMarriage/tabid/16430/Default.aspx.