by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
On November 6, Washington state voters approved Referendum 74, joining Maine and Maryland as the first states to pass same-sex marriage by popular vote.
Washingtonians went to bed election night not knowing when they would hear that the freedom to marry was definitely the law of the land. But the Approve R-74 vote maintained its narrow lead as the hours passed, and on November 7, Washington United for Marriage declared victory. Zach Silk, the group's campaign director, called it 'an historic day.'
'We have always understood that there are good people on the other side of this issue,' he said magnanimously, in a statement issued Thursday. 'Yet, we remain confident that once people see how much marriage matters to families, they will realize that the love and commitment that marriage embodies only strengthens families, neighborhoods, and communities.'
Opponents conceded the race November 8. 'With added results showing that we have not closed the gap, it now appears clear that Referendum 74 will be narrowly approved,' said Joseph Backholm, director of Preserve Marriage Washington, which led the campaign to reject the measure. 'We are disappointed in losing a tough election battle on marriage by a narrow margin. But while we are disappointed, we are not defeated.'
As SGN goes to press, the most recent ballot count in Washington shows Referendum 74 winning approval, 52 percent to 48 percent. Not surprisingly, King County voters overwhelmingly favored the measure.
'This is an historic day for Washington, an historic day for our country and, most of all, for families across the state who have dreamed of this day,' Silk said on Thursday.
FOUR FOR FOUR
Same-sex marriage supporters also celebrated victories Wednesday in Maryland and Maine, where voters approved marriage equality, and in Minnesota, where a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage was defeated. A statutory ban remains in effect in Minnesota.
Although Referendum 74 supporters enjoyed a narrow lead on Election Day, as many as one million ballots remained to be counted by day's end. Both sides declared the race too close to call.
But by mid-Wednesday, Washington United for Marriage held a news conference to announce their belief that the referendum would be approved.
'We have run the numbers every which way, and we can now confidently say that we have won,' said Silk.
Still, some members of the LGBT community remained skeptical, reluctant to claim victory until the official word was given, or Preserve Marriage Washington stepped out of the fight. As of Wednesday night, R-74 was being rejected in all but eight of the state's 39 counties. According to The Seattle Times, the highest approval rate was being reported in San Juan County, where 70% of voters favored marriage equality. On the other hand, rejection rates of 70% and above were coming in from counties across Eastern Washington.
By mid-Thursday, more than half of the expected ballots had been counted and additional results were expected to be posted in the evening. Because Washington is a vote-by-mail state and only requires ballots to be postmarked by Election Day, votes continued to trickle in for several days.
KING COUNTY DECISIVE
But R-74 held its lead - 66% of the vote - in King County. Thanks to voter awareness campaigns by Social Outreach Seattle (SOSea), Why Marriage Matters Washington, and a coalition amassed by Washington United for Marriage, King County voters (a third of the state's electorate) were responsible for delivering the narrow win.
Backholm blamed several factors for Preserve Marriage Washington's loss. 'The election results reflect the political and funding advantages our opponents enjoyed in this very liberal and secular state,' he wrote in a statement Thursday afternoon. 'The results show only that in a deep blue state, with a huge financial advantage, Gay marriage activists can win - barely.'
Marriage equality supporters spent nearly $13.6 million on the campaign, outraising opponents by a whopping $12 million. Six- and seven-figure donations from Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg made national headlines. Opponents raised just $2.7 million.
Also giving the campaign to secure marriage equality in Washington a boost, President Barack Obama expressed his support for same-sex marriage in May, shortly after Vice President Joe Biden did so. Then, just two weeks ago, Obama asked voters in Maryland, Maine, Minnesota, and Washington to vote in favor of marriage equality. Both announcements marked the first time a sitting U.S. president spoke out in favor of the freedom to marry.
'74! 74! 74!'
On the evening of November 6, many supporters took to the streets of Capitol Hill, cheering at election watch parties as early results showed the referendum taking a narrow lead. A large crowd gathered at Pike Street and 10th Avenue. USA Today took notice, reporting that 'police closed off several blocks in Seattle's Capitol Hill area as more than 1,000 people gathered for a late-night, impromptu election celebration, dancing and chanting, '74! 74! 74!'
Same-sex couples in Washington can start picking up their marriage certificates and licenses from county auditor offices December 6, the day after the election is due to be certified. It is important to note that because Washington has a three-day waiting period, the earliest a certificate could be signed making the marriage valid is December 9.
Despite the lies that the bigoted anti-marriage equality campaign spread, the law doesn't require religious organizations or churches to perform marriages, and it doesn't subject churches to penalties if they don't want to marry same-sex couples.
Gregoire, who announced her support of marriage equality at the start of the legislative session in January, said in a statement issued Thursday afternoon, 'Voters stood up for what is right and what is just and said that all Washington families are equal under the law. This is a day that historians will look back on as a turning point for equality.'
$25 MADE A DIFFERENCE
Washington United for Marriage essentially started from scratch in June. The campaign built a $12.3 million war chest with more than 27,000 donors, 80% of whom hailed from the Evergreen State. The most common donation amount? Twenty-five-dollars, given over and over again.
Volunteers logged 10,000 three-hour shifts in direct voter outreach, a total of 30,000 hours. In just the last week before the election, 100,000 doors were knocked on and nearly 200,000 phone calls were logged on Monday and Tuesday.
'We made history in so many ways,' said Silk. 'Our volunteers were engaged, fired up and [they] delivered. There has never been a ballot campaign in Washington that had this kind of breadth and depth, from field to fundraising. We have much to celebrate and much to be proud of. With so much at stake, we challenged ourselves to do big things, and it made all the difference.'
State Sen. Ed Murray summed up what was at stake with the R-74 vote in late October, telling Seattle Weekly: 'What is at stake is the future of the state of Washington. Are we going to be a place where all citizens enjoy the same freedoms, a place where all families are treated the same? Losing would be a setback, but the generational change taking place ensures marriage equality will be a reality - if not this year, then in a few short years.'
Murray's fears were happily unfounded. Maryland, Maine, and Washington have now joined the growing number of states and other jurisdictions where same-sex couples can wed, a roster that also includes New York, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, and the District of Columbia. But Maryland, Maine, and Washington are the first to enact marriage equality by public vote. The other states' laws were enacted either by lawmakers or court rulings. Thus, Washington voters have truly made history.
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