By a 62-to-35 margin, the state House just passed a sweeping bill that extends every state-granted right of marriage to same-sex domestic partners. The state Senate passed the bill by a 30-to-18 vote last month. Governor Gregoire is expected to sign the bill, Gregoire’s staff says.
“We are absolutely delighted,” says Josh Friedes, a spokesman for Equal Rights Washington, a group backing the bill. “This is the fourth consecutive year of strong legislative votes in support of LGBT civil rights and equality.” The legislature previously passed two domestic-partnership laws, which created the domestic-partnership registry and provided a handful of rights to couples, and it passed a civil-rights bill providing protection for lesbian, gay and transgender persons in 2006.
But the current bill may not become law for several months, if at all.
“We are in the process of organizing a referendum… to repeal the domestic-partnership law,” says Gary Randall, president of the Faith and Freedom Network, a conservative religious coalition of two nonprofits and a PAC. He says the group is meeting this afternoon and plans to file paperwork any day. (More on the group's strategy is here.)
Simply filing the paperwork for a referendum would block the bill from becoming law for at least 90 days after the last day of the legislative session (scheduled for April 26 this year), says Shane Hamlin, assistant director of the Secretary of State Office’s election division. The anti-domestic-partnership campaign would have until July 25 to gather 120,577 signatures to qualify for the general election. If the measure qualifies, the bill remains in limbo until the November vote.
Randall says his group may also try to repeal the two previous domestic-partnership laws. That would require filing a separate initiative which needs 241,153 signatures submitted by July 3 to make this year's ballot, the Secretary of State Office says.
“To repeal what the legislature does in this year’s session, they must file a referendum,” says Hamlin. “To repeal something that the legislature did last session, they must run an initiative.”
"If the Faith and Freedom Network really cared about the families they would try to strengthen them by working to help provide basic services to all families," says Friedes, "not by trying to take away basic rights from gay and lesbian families."
Polling released by the University of Washington last October shows 66 percent of voters support either full marriage equality or all the rights of marriage to same-sex couples. "I think [a referendum] is ours to lose. Complacently results in loss," says Friedes.
Before the House voted to pass the measure, Republican representatives introduced several amendments. One of those amendments would have kept any discussion of domestic partnership out of public schools to protect children from hearing about same-sex couples. Also, Representative Glenn Anderson (R-5) warned the bill could mean Washington "will no longer preference, provided incentives, or encourage marriage." Every amendment failed.
News intern Alexander Brown contributed reporting to this post.