by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Staff Writer
The time to vote is now. Last week, registered voters from around the state received a General Election voter ballot, and although this is an off-year election, the stakes for LGBT Washingtonians - and some seniors - have never been higher. With the clock ticking and with each calendar day drawing nearer to November 3, there is no time to waste. Vote to approve Referendum 71.
Referendum 71 asks voters to approve or reject Senate Bill 5688, which grants registered same-sex domestic partners the same rights and responsibilities as married couples in Washington State. The bill would have taken effect July 26, but is now on hold pending the General Election vote.
ENERGIZING THE BASE
At this point in the battle for same-sex equality in Washington State, Approve Ref. 71 Campaign's Seattle Events Coordinator Josh Castle isn't taking anything for granted. Castle and a handful of volunteers have taken the campaign to the streets, bars, and Seattle neighborhoods. Armed with signs, cheers, and a whole lot of energy, the grassroots advocates have one mantra: Approve Referendum 71.
"Voter turnout in off-year elections is incredibly low among progressives," Castle told SGN. "Our goal is to get people to vote, even if they normally do not vote. If we can get a few more people to vote each time we go out into the community, then Referendum 71 will get approved."
On October 21, Castle and his volunteers put together a fundraising and voter awareness event at C.C. Attle's, during which they signed up more volunteers for neighborhood canvassing and phone banking projects and raised additional money for the Washington Families Standing Together (WAFST) Approve Ref. 71 Campaign.
"The event was wonderful. We had tons of free food and the place was packed," he said. "It was a great event and successful, too, because we were able to bring people together for fun and politics."
Castle is no stranger to community outreach. Armed with a dozen volunteers, he has spent the past two weeks going to Capitol Hill bars - Gay and straight - to poster, register new volunteers, and fundraise.
"The bar owners and management have been great. We get the VIP treatment wherever we go," Castle told SGN. "Everyone has been so supportive and thanks us for what we are trying to accomplish."
He said the cooperation from business owners and bar patrons has been priceless. "We haven't had one negative experience so far."
Castle said it's been inspiring to work with people who are taking time out of their busy schedules to advance LGBT equality.
"We are getting off our couches and putting down our cell phones and talking with people, in person. This [voting] is a critical issue; it ignites a lot of passion," he said. "If we win, then we can move toward full equality in Washington State. But, if we lose, it will set us back 10 years. People need to understand what is at stake."
Some people are voting for the first time in their life because of this issue, Castle said. He's working with a lot of people who've never worked with a campaign before, but are passionate about seeing the referendum approved.
According to Castle, over 50 people joined the campaign to doorbell on a Saturday afternoon. Even though it was a weekend, he said, a majority of the people the campaign spoke with were very supportive and promised to vote to approve Referendum 71.
Next on the agenda for Castle are sign-waving events. Castle is organizing events in the morning or afternoon, during rush hour traffic, where volunteers hold up huge signs and banners that remind people to vote - and how to vote - over the busiest overpasses in Seattle.
"When you are sorting through your junk mail, don't treat the ballot as if it were the same thing," Castle implored. "Fill it out. Please, don't bury it under other mail and forget to vote. When you are done voting, then remind everyone you know to vote as well."
We are in the last weeks leading up to the final count, he said. "This is the last big push."
To volunteer for the events that Castle organizes, you can text him at (206) 334-0508 or send him e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
ANTI-REF. 71 GROUP
Despite the general consensus that everyone should have equal rights and protections under the law, a new anti-Ref. 71 organization was formed two weeks ago. This week, according to the Seattle Times, the Lynnwood-based organization filed a suit in U.S. District Court in Tacoma seeking to circumvent campaign contribution limits of $5,000 and to keep secret the names of those who make smaller donations.
State law requires campaigns to disclose names, addresses and the place of employment for those donating $25 or more to a campaign. The law also sets a limit of $5,000 on contributions from individuals and businesses made within 21 days of the General Election.
The lawsuit is filed on the heels of the state's donation limits taking effect for the current statewide General Election on November 3.
The anti-Ref. 71 organization, Family PAC, is seeking a temporary restraining order to lift the $5,000 limit and skip the requirement to identify those who donate. Family PAC has asked for an expedited hearing on its restraining order request in hopes of being able to accept larger donations in the time remaining before November 3.
James Bopp Jr., a conservative federal and state elections-law attorney, is representing Family PAC. "What person in their right mind would vote for or against Gay rights based on Joe Blow giving $26 in a campaign involving millions of dollars?" he asked. He said the state's threshold for identifying donors is among the lowest in the country.
Bopp is also the attorney representing Protect Marriage Washington in that group's U.S. Supreme Court lawsuit, which seeks to block the names of those who signed Referendum 71 petitions.
"After the harassment directed at supporters of Proposition 8 last year in California, no one should have their personal information published on the internet for making a contribution, and certainly not at the irrational levels set by the State of Washington," Bopp said.
SHOULD APPROVE REF. 71
This week, WAFST, the LGBT advocacy organization leading the Approve Ref. 71 Campaign, said voter outreach is even more urgent now that voters have received their ballots. On their website, www.approvereferendum71.org, WAFST said the race is close: 45% of voters are sure they'll vote "approve," 42% are sure they will vote "reject," and 13% aren't sure. The campaign said it is the stories of LGBT families that will help see that Referendum 71 is approved.
WAFST Campaign Manager Josh Friedes spoke with members of the community this week about the important issue. Karen Kerr and Penny Stone, two firefighters who volunteer with the campaign at the phone bank center, told Friedes, "People don't know what it's like to have to hire lawyers to make sure your family has basic protections. Lawyers can't provide many of the protections we'll lose if we don't win this referendum fight."
Additionally, new videos were released this week asking voters to remember that Referendum 71 is about protecting families and the loved ones of LGBT people.
In an ad featuring veteran LGBT activist Charlene Strong, she says, "Now we have important legal protections for Gay and Lesbian couples, but we need to vote Approve on Referendum 71 or many of these protections will be taken away. All families deserve equal protection under the law."
To help educate voters in Washington State about Referendum 71, the Approve Ref. 71 Campaign and the ACLU's LGBT Project have released a series of online videos that feature the stories of registered domestic partners from across the state.
"It's hard to not be moved to support domestic partnerships when you hear seniors Rose and Joe talk about how their domestic partnership helps them cope with Rose's medical issues, or when you listen to Diane and Marge from Spokane talk about the difficulty they faced before their relationship was recognized," the October 22 ACLU statement reads. "It's hard to question the service Gay and Lesbian couples provide to our communities when you listen to Cindy and Janet talk about the six kids they adopted from foster care, or when you listen to Jen and Heidi working in the Seattle Fire Department. Or when you hear Yakima residents Kari and Julia talk about how they love living in a community where they know half the people they see in the grocery store."
"And it's hard to remain dry-eyed when you hear Clarkston residents Cathlin and Avril speak about the uncertainties they face with Cathlin's cancer treatments, or when you hear Charlene Strong talk about her tragic experience with her partner's death."
All the videos can be viewed at www.approvereferndum71.org/r71-personal-stories/.
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