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ELECTION 09: Wash. state
to vote on ‘everything but gay marriage’

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second in a series of special stories previewing key elections this fall.

OLYMPIA, Wash. (BP)–Technically, “gay marriage” is not on the ballot in Washington state this fall, but it might as well be.

A ballot initiative known as Referendum 71 is letting voters decide whether to approve or reject a new law that grants homosexual couples all the legal benefits of marriage, minus the name. If Referendum 71 passes, then Washington will become the sixth state nationwide to offer same-sex couples every legal benefit of marriage but the name itself. If it is defeated, though, then the “everything but marriage” law signed in May by Democratic Gov. Christine Gregoire will be reversed.

The campaign is being conducted three years after the Washington state Supreme Court handed homosexual groups a major loss by refusing to legalize “gay marriage.” That vote was 5-4, but a member of that majority decision is retiring, and Gregoire — an ally of the state’s homosexual groups — will name the replacement.

Against that backdrop, Protect Marriage Washington, the primary organization urging the defeat of Referendum 71, is making “gay marriage” the sole issue. Its campaign signs encourage citizens to “Preserve Marriage, Protect Children.” Its ads say the new law “redefines marriage to include homosexual relationships.”

The 112-page bill expanding the state’s domestic partnerships law says that in interpreting state law, the benefits of marriage “shall be interpreted as applying equally” to domestic partnerships.

Larry Stickney, campaign manager for Protect Marriage Washington, isn’t apologizing for his organization’s message, particularly in light of what he has seen happen in other states. Connecticut, New Hampshire and Vermont all had “everything but marriage” laws at one point, but now have full-blown “gay marriage.” California also had a similar law, and its state Supreme Court said the law made same-sex couples “second-class citizens.” The justices legalized “gay marriage” — a decision later overturned by voters.

The Washington law, Stickney and others say, is a stepping stone to “gay marriage.”

“Understand that California was looking at the same scenario, where the legislature gave every right of marriage outside of the name,” Stickney told Baptist Press. “Once that’s achieved, it’s out of the hands of the people, and the courts come in, as they did in California and declared the state’s defense of marriage act unconstitutional and installed gay marriage by judicial fiat. Well, that’s exactly what will happen in Washington.

“But we don’t have any recourse here in Washington. California did, because the people can start a constitutional amendment process. We can’t in Washington. That effort would have to start with the state legislature.”

And conservatives, Stickney said, would have “no chance” in the current legislature to get a constitutional marriage amendment on the ballot.

Even supporters of Referendum 71 acknowledge that marriage is the next battle. The Spokesman-Review newspaper (Spokane) editorial board, in endorsing Referendum 71, wrote, “Will this measure someday lead to gay marriage? We sure hope so.” Ryan Blethen, The Seattle Times editorial page editor, also endorsed the referendum and wrote, “The debate is not about marriage equality — yet.”

Yet opponents of Referendum 71 will have to overcome several obstacles if they are to win. Referendum 71 supporters at one point had a 13-to-1 fundraising advantage, an edge that narrowed to a more respectable 4-to-1 in recent days when a conservative group raised $200,000 to run anti-Referendum 71 ads. The group is unrelated to Protect Marriage Washington. The cash edge has allowed Washington Families Standing Together — the pro-Referendum 71 group — to flood the airwaves with pro-Referendum 71 ads. Stickney’s group also has the media establishment against him: Nearly every major newspaper in the state has endorsed Referendum 71.

Still, conservatives in the state might win. A SurveyUSA poll of 548 likely voters released in early October showed Referendum 71 passing only 45-42 percent, with 13 percent undecided. Protect Marriage Washington has spotlighted not only the “gay marriage” court threat but also a shocking quote from Sen. Ed Murray, a homosexual and a sponsor of the domestic partnerships bill. A May 2008 column in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer by writer David Benkof said Murray and another homosexual activist group “have both told me that people who continue to act as if marriage is a union between a man and a woman should face being fined, fired and even jailed until they relent.” Once controversy over the quote ensued, Benkof, on his blog, said the meat of the paraphrase was accurate, although he did clarify that Murray did not use the words “until they relent.” Still, the damage was done.

Like most elections in Washington state, the results likely will highlight a cultural divide between Seattle and the major cities, and the rest of the state. Because nearly all voting in Washington occurs by mail, citizens already are voting.

The key to victory, Stickney said, is getting Christians to vote. He said the typical election participate rate among evangelicals is only 8 to 15 percent.

“We’ve been outspent,” he said. “We always dream of waking the sleeping giant here in Washington, which, even though we’re one of the most unchurched states in the country, we still have 60 percent or better who claim Jesus Christ — to varying degrees — as the Son of God. We have really worked in the churches.

“Will the Christians rise? If they do, we’ll win.”

Rick Melick, senior pastor of CrossPointe Church (SBC) in Bothell, Wash., which is about 20 miles northeast of Seattle, told BP it is “difficult to watch TV or listen to the radio without being bombarded” by ads showcasing homosexuals supporting Referendum 71.

“The Christian community is confronted with the harsh reality that accompanies living for Jesus in the unchurched Northwest,” he said.

The bill, he added, “comes dangerously close to legally redefining marriage” and “compromises moral principles that are important to me.” But Melick said Christians should maintain a Christ-like attitude in the debate.

“It is important to remember that the homosexual’s ‘problem’ is not homosexuality, but often an absence of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ,” he said. “I encourage our church attendees to form a biblical opinion of homosexuality. The Bible clearly teaches that it is sin. However, the same biblical standard must be applied to our opinion of homosexuals. We love them, and so does Jesus.”
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press. To learn how you can help defeat Referendum 71, visit www.ProtectMarriageWa.com. To read how “gay marriage” impacts society visit http://www.bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?id=30209

    About the Author

  • Michael Foust