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Wash. gay partner referendum nears ballot

OLYMPIA, Wash. (BP)–An effort to overturn Washington state’s same-sex domestic partnerships law is on pace to qualify for the ballot, with the next several days determining its fate.

Referendum 71, as it is called, would go on the November ballot and reverse a law that grants homosexual couples all the legal benefits of marriage, minus the name. Supporters submitted 137,689 signatures July 25 and have been waiting since then to see if they met the threshold of 120,577 valid signatures.

So far, they’re OK, but barely.

Through Wednesday’s count by the Washington secretary of state’s office, 103,198 signatures had been declared valid and 13,871 invalid, which comes to an 11.85 percent rejection rate. For it to qualify, the rejection rate must stay at or below 12.4 percent. At the current signature-checking rate, supporters should know by Monday or Tuesday if they were successful. Signatures are rejected for a number of reasons, such as the person not living in the state or having signed the petition twice.

Including Washington, five states have so-called “everything but marriage” laws for homosexual couples. Washington, though, would be the first one to put the issue on the ballot.

Washington state Democratic Gov. Christine Gregoire signed the bill into law in May, waiting as long as she could to give bill opponents less time to gather signatures. That delay, the Seattle Times reported, eliminated about one-third of the 90 days supporters had to gather signatures.

The law has not gone into effect.

“While the signature count is still considered ‘too close to call’ by the Secretary of State, we are holding onto a pace that will exceed the 120,577 required signatures,” a statement on the Protect Marriage Washington website reads. “My friends, we are very, very close to declaring a victory for this phase one of the R-71 campaign!”

Domestic partnerships and civil union laws often are promoted as a “middle of the road” approach, but opponents argue that they simply are stepping stones to “gay marriage,” as has been shown to be the case in Connecticut, Vermont and New Hampshire, three states that formerly had similar laws but now recognize “gay marriage.”

Russell Johnson, director of governmental affairs for the Family Policy Institute of Washington, previously told Baptist Press that Washington state now is in a position similar to where California was last year, when the California Supreme Court legalized “gay marriage” and said the state could not have “separate but equal” institutions for opposite-sex and same-sex couples. In other words, the court used the state’s domestic partnerships law as a reason “gay marriage” must be legalized (a ruling eventually overturned by Proposition 8).

“The supporters of this bill have publicly said at press conferences that the intent of this legislation is to create a legal precedent and a legislative precedent for either the courts to impose gay marriage or for the state legislature to adopt terms that redefine marriage,” Johnson said. “Those who support domestic partnerships on the legislative level are pretty clear and up front about their positions.”
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press. For more information about Referendum 71, visit ProtectMarriageWa.com. To follow the signature validation, visit http://wei.secstate.wa.gov/osos/en/initiativesReferenda/Pages/R-71Information.aspx (click on “Referendum 71 Signature Check Updates”).

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