Ref. 71

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Washington domestic partnership law passing; Maine same-sex marriage law losing

rita_hibbardwebIt may be that if you call the union "marriage," it loses at the ballot box. Washington voters are appearing to approve a domestic partnership law that gives same-sex couples all the benefits of marriage without the label, while Maine voters are turning down a gay marriage law.

The Washington domestic partnership ballot measure was leading narrowly statewide as ballots were counted Tuesday night, the Seattle Times reports, and leading strongly in King County returns. The measure, a referendum on a law passed earlier this year by the Legislature, was doing well in the metropolitan Puget Sound area, and being rejected in the more rural areas of eastern Washington.

The Maine vote is widely considered a stinging defeat to gay marriage advocates, especially because it occurred in New England, which has been more receptive to other areas of the country to same-sex unions. It follows on the heels of a similar pattern in California, where voters overturned a gay marriage law at the ballot box last year.

The New York Times reports:

"With the repeal of the same-sex marriage law, Maine became the 31st state to reject same-sex marriage at the ballot box. Five other states — Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, New Hampshire and Vermont — have legalized same-sex marriage, but only through court rulings and legislative action.

-- Rita Hibbard

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Oregon gay rights activists launch drive to legalize same-sex marriage

rita_hibbardwebAs Washington voters cast ballots in Tuesday's election on whether the state should preserve a same-sex domestic partnership law passed by the Legislature this year, Oregon gay rights activists today launched a campaign to make gay marriage legal in Oregon.

Basic Rights Oregon, the state’s largest gay rights group, intends to get an initiative on the ballot by 2012 that will ask voters to lift the constitutional ban on gay marriage passed by voters in 2004, The Oregonian reports.

The goal is "to allow same-sex couples to legally marry in this state," said Jeana Frazzini,  executive director of  Basic Rights Oregon "There is no substitute for the respect and dignity that comes with marriage."

But Basic Rights can expect fierce resistance from the Oregon Family Council, the church-backed group that successfully ran the Measure 36 campaign in 2004 to ban same-sex marriage in the state constitution, said Tim Nashif, the council's political director.

"We're going to fight it, and we'll fight it just as hard now as we did in 2004," he said. "I don't think Oregonians are going to overturn Measure 36," which defines marriage as a bond between only a man and a woman.

Oregon gay rights activists will be watching their neighbors in Washington, where voters are being asked to uphold the domestic partnership law passed by the Legislature this year by approving Referendum 71.

Rita Hibbard's picture

'Gay studies' in the schools used to 'swift boat' the same-sex partnership and marriage debates in Washington and Maine

rita_hibbardwebWashington state isn’t the only state with a gay marriage or partnership issue on the ballot. In Maine, voters are deciding whether to repeal the state’s new same-sex marriage law. Supporters of the new law are hoping that gay couples there don’t lose the right to marry just six months after they gained it, just like they did in California last year.

As in Maine, voters in Washington are being asked whether they want to keep a new law on the books. The Washington law establishes a gay domestic partnership, the so-called “everything but marriage” law.

In Washington, the fight is getting down and dirty, and opponents of the gay domestic partnership law are now warning that if Ref. 71 is approved, it will lead to gay studies in public schools, KUOW reporter Austin Jenkins reports.

The Reject 71 campaign says the new law will allow public schools “to teach that gay marriage is normal and healthy whether parents approve or not."

But Rep. Jamie Pederson, a gay lawmaker who sponsored the domestic partnership bill in the House, says there is no language in the bill about schools. What gets taught in the classroom is up to local schoolboards, says Pedersen, who has four children with his partner.

Federal judge blocks release of Ref. 71 signatures

Washington State's Referendum 71, which allows voters to decide on whether the state should extend domestic rights to gay couples, may have made the November ballot nearly a week ago, but the petitions are still making headlines, reports Janet I. Tu of the Seattle Times.

U.S. District Judge Benjamin Settle has decided to shield the names of those who signed the petitions that got R-71 onto the ballot, citing that they are protected under the First Amendment and blocking the state from releasing the petitions to the public.

While the Secretary of State's Office has said that it is obligated to release the papers under the Public Records Act, Protect Marriage Washington -- a group opposed to the extended benefits -- filed a lawsuit to protect the petitions, arguing that the signers "would be subject to threats and harassment."

While the block is just a preliminary injunction, the judge has openly sided with Protect Marriage Washington, writes Tu:

Settle said he wasn't convinced that release of the names is necessary as "an important check on the integrity of the referendum election process." Indeed, Settle said that Protect Marriage is likely to succeed in its claim that the public-records act is unconstitutional as applied to the disclosure of referendum petitions.

Some are concerned that the ruling could affect the application of Washington's public disclosure law on future initiatives. Transparency is important to us at InvestigateWest, so we'll keep you posted.

-- Natasha Walker

Ref. 71 makes the ballot, campaigning begins

After nearly a month of meticulous signature counts, the results are in: Referendum 71, which could allow Washington state voters to overturn the "everything but marriage" law granting rights to gay couples,  has qualified for the November ballot, reports the Everett Herald staff.

Despite efforts by supporters of gay rights to halt the process, the secretary of state's office said Monday that petitioners had obtained over 1,000 extra signatures, giving voters a chance to decide on whether an extension of the state's domestic partnership law has a place in Washington.

However, the lawsuit filed by Washington Families Standing Together has not gone unnoticed. The group's request for an injunction that would block the secretary of state from officially placing Ref. 71 on  the ballot is expected to have an answer by Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Janet I. Tu of the Seattle Times reports that opponents and supporters of Ref. 71 are already gearing up for the next stage: two months of heavy lobbying. Said Anne Levinson, chairwoman of Washington Families Standing Together:

It's full speed ahead.

Supporters of Wash. gay rights bill sue to halt Ref. 71

Supporters of Washington State's "everything but marriage" gay-rights expansion bill have sued the Secretary of State in an attempt to block an initiative to bring the bill before Washington voters in November, Janet I. Tu of The Seattle Times reports.

In May, Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire signed into law a bill that would have expanded the state's domestic partnership law, first established in 2007. Passed by more than half of state legislators, the bill would have provided domestic partners with the same benefits as married couples.

Opponents of the bill have since made speedy efforts to collect 120,577 signatures for Referendum 71, an attempt to overturn the state's decision and put the bill in the hands of voters.

The lawsuit is the latest in a series of struggles over the signatures, which are still being counted. Opponents and supporters have taken turns craning their necks over state-appointed checkers, and both sides have complained that the signatures have been unfairly accepted and rejected by state workers.  Now, as the count draws to an end, proponents of the bill have made what some have called a "last-ditch effort" to block Ref. 71. from getting on the November ballot. The lawsuit seeks a temporary hold on the referendum, arguing that two types of signatures -- voters who had not registered prior to signing the petition, and those who did not sign the back of the petitions -- are padding the counts.

In an effort to increase transparency, staff from the Secretary of State have put together a daily blog and a Twitter to follow the signature counts.