Gay marriage opponents readying to file for referendum


Opponents of gay marriage said this week they have reached the number of signatures needed to qualify a proposed referendum seeking to overturn a new law legalizing same-sex marriage in Washington state, and that they may turn them in as early as next Tuesday.

Joseph Backholm, with Preserve Marriage Washington, said that the campaign for Referendum 74 has at least 150,000 signatures on hand. Backers of R-74 need to turn in 120,577 valid voter signatures next week in order to qualify for the ballot. The secretary of state’s office recommends that campaigns submit about 150,000 signatures in order to provide a cushion for invalid or duplicate signatures.

“We feel that it’s going to be adequate to get it on the ballot,” he said. “We’re quite confident of that.”

Backholm said that the 150,000 signatures were gathered by volunteers. He said that while they did hire professional signature gatherers, the amounts they’ve collected haven’t been added into the overall total yet. Backholm said that his group hopes to hit 200,000 signatures by next week, and that they want to turn the signatures in ahead of a June 6 deadline, possibly as early as June 5.

Zach Silk, a spokesman for Washington United for Marriage, a coalition that supports the gay marriage law in Washington state, said he wasn’t surprised that Preserve Marriage collected so many signatures.

“We always expected them to reach the number,” he said. “We’ve been preparing our campaign to talk to voters. We believe at the end of the day they’ll side with us to uphold the law.”

So far, Washington United for Marriage has raised more than $714,000 in their effort to fight back attempts to overturn the law. Preserve Marriage Washington has raised more than $43,000, according to the most recent numbers with the Public Disclosure Commission.

National groups have already promised time and money to the effort, including the Washington, D.C.-based National Organization for Marriage, which was involved in ballot measures that overturned same-sex marriage in California and Maine.

Washington state has had domestic partnership laws since 2007, and in 2009, passed an “everything but marriage” expansion of that law, which was ultimately upheld by voters after a referendum challenge. The Legislature approved gay marriage earlier this year, and Gov. Chris Gregoire signed it in February.

On Wednesday, a poll by a Seattle public affairs and consulting firm, Strategies 360, showed that 54 percent of voters think it should be legal for same-sex couples to get married, though the poll doesn’t specifically ask them how they’ll vote on R-74. The survey of 500 likely voters was conducted last week, and had a margin of error of 4.4 percent.

Another effort seeking to overturn gay marriage is still ongoing.

Initiative 1192 was filed in January by Everett attorney Stephen Pidgeon, seeking to reaffirm marriage as “between one man and one woman.” To qualify for the November ballot, he must submit at least 241,153 signatures of valid registered voters by July 6, a month after the referendum signature deadline. He said Wednesday that he has collected about 75,000. To date, Pidgeon’s effort has raised about $6,000.

Gay marriage is legal in New York, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Washington, D.C. Maryland legalized gay marriage this year as well, though opponents there are promising to challenge it with a ballot measure and on May 29 delivered more than twice the number of signatures required.

FYI: A new Strategies 360 poll released this week shows Washington state voters approve of the new marriage equality law by a 54-33 percent margin. The independent, statewide poll finds that an overwhelming majority of voters approve of Washington’s law extending civil marriage to same-sex couples.  In addition to extraordinary support by Democrats (87 percent), the poll also found significant support among Independents, nearly mirroring the full poll, at 52-36 percent.

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