by Shaun Knittel - SGN Associate Editor
Thurston County Superior Court Judge Thomas McPhee ruled March 13 that a proposed referendum seeking to overturn the new law legalizing same-sex marriage in Washington will not contain the phrase 'redefine marriage.'
Judge McPhee finalized the language for the ballot title and summary of Referendum 74 after both sides of the debate challenged the original wording by Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna.
McPhee's language is final and cannot be appealed.
The new Referendum 74 ballot title and ballot measure summary are as follows:
The legislature passed Engrossed Substitute Senate Bill 6239 concerning marriage for same-sex couples, modified domestic-partnership law, and religious freedom, and voters have filed a sufficient referendum petition on this bill.
This bill would allow same-sex couples to marry, preserve domestic partnerships only for seniors, and preserve the right of clergy or religious organizations to refuse to perform, recognize, or accommodate any marriage ceremony.
Ballot Measure Summary
This bill allows same-sex couples to marry, applies marriage laws without regard to gender, and specifies that laws using gender-specific terms like husband and wife include same-sex spouses. After 2014, existing domestic partnerships are converted to marriages, except for seniors. It preserves the right of clergy or religious organizations to refuse to perform or recognize any marriage or accommodate wedding ceremonies. The bill does not affect licensing of religious organizations providing adoption, foster-care, or child-placement.
Zach Silk, campaign manager for Washington United for Marriage - the pro-LGBT marriage equality coalition working to secure same-sex marriage for Washington in 2012 - said, 'the fight to defend marriage equality is officially on.'
Immediately following the ruling, Silk told supporters, 'One hour ago, Judge McPhee released the official language for Referendum 74, which we need to approve in November to ensure the marriage equality law signed by Governor Gregoire actually becomes the law of Washington. While it's not perfect, we are pleased that the court provided a fair and accurate title for Referendum 74.'
'Marriage equality opponents have been gathering their strength for months,' said Silk. 'They've already announced that they've raised a million dollars to repeal this historic law - and now that the language has been approved, they are starting to gather the signatures they're going to need to get on the ballot.'
Preserve Marriage Washington, which filed R-74, can now start circulating petitions to collect signatures. If the backers of R-74 collect the more than 120,577 valid voter signatures needed by June 6, the law allowing same-sex marriage will be put on hold pending the outcome of a November vote.
'We are excited to move on with the process,' Joseph Backholm, executive director of the Family Policy Institute of Washington, one of the groups supporting the referendum, told the Seattle P-I.
'The public understands that this bill redefines marriage and they will ultimately decide if that's what they want to do,' Backholm said.
The Washington, D.C.-based National Organization for Marriage, which was involved in ballot measures that overturned same-sex marriage in California and Maine, has promised to work with Preserve Marriage Washington to qualify the referendum to overturn the new law.
Silk says the campaign for marriage equality is on. 'They've set a goal of getting 120,577 signatures to make sure they put marriage equality up for a vote in November. We've set a goal to match them. I know we can get 120,577 fair-minded Washingtonians to stand up publicly and say that they support marriage equality by June 6.'
Silk is asking supporters to go to their website www.washingtonunitedformarriage.org and sign the pledge for marriage equality.
'We've made amazing progress toward equality in Washington, and we can't leave this up to chance,' he said. 'Not now. Not when we're so close to full marriage equality.'
In January, Everett attorney Stephen Pidgeon filed Initiative 1192, another effort seeking to overturn marriage equality in Washington state, which seeks to reaffirm marriage as 'between one man and one woman.'
Pidgeon says he is carrying on with his initiative effort despite the referendum. To qualify for the November ballot, he must submit at least 241,153 valid signatures of registered voters by July 6. He claims to have already collected 'thousands' of signatures.
Gay marriage is legal in New York, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Washington, D.C. Maryland legalized same-sex marriage this year as well, though opponents there are promising to challenge it with a ballot measure.
In more than 30 states, opponents of same-sex marriage have won at the ballot box since 1998. Washington is poised to be the first state to successfully win marriage equality by popular vote when voters from across the state vote on Referendum 74. The nation is watching as opponents and advocates of marriage equality begin campaigns that over the course of the next seven months fight for their side of the argument in this potentially historic road to equality.
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