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Community prepares for referendum campaign
Community prepares for referendum campaign
by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

While anti-Gay forces debated the wisdom of Referendum 71, which challenges new domestic partnership legislation passed this year, LGBT political leaders prepared for the coming campaign.

Referendum 71 will need 120,500 voter signatures to qualify for the ballot in November. If it successfully passes that hurdle, voters will have a chance either to approve or reject the new laws giving same-sex domestic partners the same rights and responsibilities as opposite-sex married couples.

Because of the way the ballot measure will be worded, a "Yes" vote means the voter approves of domestic partnership rights, while a "No" vote indicates rejection of domestic partnerships.

LGBT community leaders expressed confidence that voters will approve the new legislation.

"It's been interesting to see the debate within the religious right on whether [Referendum 71] is a good idea," said Rep. Jamie Pedersen (D-43), the prime sponsor of domestic partnership legislation in the state House. "It's hard to imagine they would win."

Equal Rights Washington's Josh Friedes agrees. "There is very, very strong support for domestic partnership rights," he told SGN.

A Washington poll, conducted by the UW's Institute for the Study of Ethnicity, Race and Sexuality at the end of November 2008, found that 37% of their respondents favored marriage equality, and an additional 29% favored equal rights for same-sex couples but without the title of "marriage." 11% favored some domestic partnership benefits, and only 21% thought there should be no recognition of same-sex relationships whatsoever.

Friedes has already begun to reach out to potential allies. "[Wednesday] I met with people from SEIU, Planned Parenthood, NARAL, FUSE. [Monday and Tuesday] I met with the Win-Win Network, AFSCME, people from the building trades unions," he said.

"We're taking this very seriously," Friedes explained. "Because of the extent of the rights involved we have no choice. Our families need and deserve protections. It's just shocking that some groups - in the midst of this economic downturn - are making their priority taking away rights from LGBT families."

While the risk for the LGBT community is substantial, Pedersen believes the right wing is also risking a great deal with Referendum 71. "If they can't hold the line here," he says, "marriage will be following very shortly. This can be a chance for people to tell their stories, a chance to continue the process of moving public opinion towards marriage."

Both Friedes and Pedersen agree that the right wing will be well-funded, and they worry about the advantage that money might give referendum supporters.

"The bar for a referendum is relatively low," Pedersen explained. "It's abundantly clear that there are more than 120,000 voters who don't approve of the law. So how do they get them to sign [the petition to get Referendum 71 on the ballot]? If they have enough money they can hire signature gatherers."

"Fundraising is critical," Friedes declares. "It takes a great deal of money to get the message out, and the economic downturn has definitely put stress on us."

Nevertheless, Friedes is optimistic as he sketches out strategy for the campaign. "The problem is how to educate people to ask them not to sign," he says. "It's possible to derail this if they don't get enough signatures."

A 2006 referendum aimed at repealing the Anderson-Murray Civil Rights Bill failed to get enough signatures to qualify for the ballot.

"We want people pledge not to sign Referendum 71," Friedes says. "Decline to sign. Ask their friends, family, coworkers, congregants not sign."

Friedes promises to use innovative tactics to spread the message. "We can use Facebook, Twitter, a whole range of things that weren't available the last time [the right] ran a campaign [in 2006]. We have to reach out well beyond Seattle. There will be a huge focus on signature gathering outside Seattle."

While Pedersen expects Referendum 71 to qualify for the ballot, he believes a "Decline to Sign" approach might still be beneficial. "To the extent we can use even the filing as an opportunity to educate people how harmful [the referendum] would be to us, yes, it would save a lot of pain down the road," he says.

"The world is moving much faster than we expected," Pedersen says. "Who would have thought six months ago, after Prop 8 passed and everyone was saying marriage is dead, that Iowa, Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire would be there. New York is on the verge, and I hear New Jersey will pass legislation in a few months. They're dramatic steps forward."

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