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Volume 34
Issue 09
 
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Washington Won't Discriminate challenges ballot title in court
Washington Won't Discriminate challenges ballot title in court
"It is important that the ballot title be specific and clear about what the amendments to the state's antidiscrimination law...include and do not include," said Anne Levinson, Chair of Washington Won't Discriminate.

by Robert Raketty - SGN Staff Writer

A Thurston County Superior Court judge will hear a ballot title challenge from Washington Won't Discriminate on Friday, March 10. The statewide coalition, which was organized to defeat Tim Eyman's effort to overturn a new law that bans discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, is seeking to add additional language to the Attorney General's ballot title.

According to court filings, Washington Won't Discriminate believes the ballot title does not sufficiently describe provisions of the antidiscrimination legislation, which states that the law does not modify Washington's marriage laws nor require employment goals or quotas.

"Since the proponent of the referendum communicated to the public that quotas and preferential treatment were a likely result of the legislation and that state marriage laws would be affected, this express statutory language is important to include in order to minimize voter confusion," the legal brief for Washington Won't Discriminate reads.

An early draft of the ballot title by the Attorney General had including the following sentence: "It would not modify state marriage laws or require employment goals or quotas." However, it had been removed.

Paul Lawrence, a partner at Preston Gates Ellis and the lead attorney for Washington Won't Discriminate, said he was trying to get the language on the ballot itself, instead of on the ballot summary, which would be provided to voters on the referendum and in the voter's guide.

"We are just trying to get that information more prominently displayed in the ballot title," he explained. "It is in it, but just not in the place we think it aught to be in."

Washington Won't Discriminate also objects to the Attorney General's ballot measure summary, which describes the owner-occupied housing exemption, but fails to include the fact that religious organizations are also exempt from the provisions of the new law.

"Given the importance religion has played in the public debate surrounding Gay and Lesbian rights, an exemption for religious organizations is an important part of the antidiscrimination law," the attorney's for Washington Won't Discriminate argue.

Anne Levinson, Chair of Washington Won't Discriminate, said it was important for the organization to address the perceived flaws in the Attorney General's ballot title. "It is important that the ballot title be specific and clear about what the amendments to the state's antidiscrimination law passed by the Legislature include and do not include," she said. "There will be some on the other side who will confuse voters with all sorts of descriptions about what is in the law and how it will affect their lives.

"In fact, the law simply protects all of us from discrimination in employment, housing and other areas based on our sexual orientation, whether we are straight or LGBT. It has nothing to do with quotas, preferential treatment, marriage or any number of other things. Religious organizations are exempt and owner-occupied dwellings&are excluded as well."

Eyman has submitted two referendums to the Secretary of State's office. One is a referendum on the entire bill, ESHB 2661. The other is a partial referendum, which would strike the word sexual orientation from the language of the bill rendering it ineffectual.

"My view is that there is no substantive difference between the two," said Lawrence. "I think he is fishing to see whether or not he can get a different ballot title and, then, presumably [he] would proceed where he preferred the ballot title."

Washington Won't Discriminate's hearing will be about Referendum 65. However, the organization also filed a challenge against the second referendum on Thursday. It was not known by press time when that legal challenge would be heard.

During the March 10 proceeding, the judge will also hear from Eyman's attorneys, who are seeking to change the wording of the ballot title and add gender expression to the language that will appear on the ballot. Eyman's court filing suggested that the ballot title should set sexual orientation "apart by using quotation marks," because the phrase "is a broad concept in the bill."

Lawrence said ballot challenges are difficult to win, because "a significant degree of deference" is given to the Attorney General. "I think we all need to understand that ballot titles are extremely difficult to change," he said. "We are just asking that more information be given to the voters so that they can make a fully informed choice and we hope that the judge will provide the additional information."

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