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Referendum 74 gets a new ballot title; right wing to launch anti-equality signature drive

A couple hours ago, following a lengthy hearing, Thurston County Superior Court Judge Thomas McPhee ordered that Referendum 74, the right wing’s attempt to force a public vote on Washington’s new marriage equality law, be given a new ballot title, after considering challenges to the original ballot title written by the Attorney General’s office by both proponents and opponents of marriage equality.

The new ballot title is considerably better than the one drafted by the career attorneys who presently work for Rob McKenna. It uses more neutral language and is simpler to read. Because Judge McPhee’s order cannot be appealed, this ballot title is final and it is what voters will see in the fall if the right wing collects enough signatures to qualify Referendum 74 (they’ve got ninety days).

Here is a comparison of the original ballot title and the new, final ballot title:

New Ballot Title
Old Ballot Title
Statement of Subject: The legislature passed Engrossed Substitute Senate Bill 6239 concerning marriage for same-sex couples, modified domestic partnership law, and religious freedom, and voters have filed a sufficient referendum petition on this bill. Statement of Subject: The legislature passed Engrossed Substitute Senate Bill 6239 concerning marriage [and voters have filed a sufficient referendum petition on this bill.]
Concise Description: This bill would allow same-sex couples to marry, preserve domestic partnerships only for seniors, and preserve the right of clergy or religious organizations to refuse to perform, recognize, or accommodate any marriage ceremony. Concise Description: This bill would redefine marriage to allow same-sex couples to marry, modify existing domestic-partnership laws, allow clergy to refuse to solemnize or recognize marriages and religious organizations to refuse to accommodate marriage celebrations.
Ballot Measure Summary: This bill allows same-sex couples to marry, applies marriage laws without regard to gender, and specifies that laws using gender-specific terms like husband and wife include same-sex spouses. After 2014, existing domestic partnerships are converted to marriages, except for seniors. It preserves the right of clergy or religious organizations to refuse to perform or recognize any marriage or accommodate wedding ceremonies. The bill does not affect licensing of religious organizations providing adoption, foster-care, or child-placement. Ballot Measure Summary: The bill would redefine marriage to allow same-sex couples to marry, apply marriage eligibility requirements without regard to gender, and specify that laws using gender-specific terms like “husband” and “wife” include same-sex spouses. Clergy could refuse to solemnize or recognize any marriages. Religious organizations and religiously affiliated educational institutions could refuse to accommodate weddings. The measure would not affect licensing of religious organizations providing adoption, foster-care, or child-placement. Domestic partnerships for seniors would be preserved.

Gone is the odious “redefine marriage” phrasing, and gone is the clunky sentence structure present in the original ballot title.

The new title is more objective and straightforward, which is a good thing.

“We had serious concerns about the ballot title that the Attorney General’s staff drafted and proposed,” Washington United for Marriage said in a statement released after the decision was handed down.

“Although the Attorney General has publicly announced his opposition to marriage for same-sex couples, as Attorney General his first responsibility in ballot measure elections is to make sure ballot language is balanced and neutral.”

“Those opposed to civil marriage equality brought in Tea Party attorneys to argue for language that was even more inappropriate. The League of Women Voters and PFLAG made a strong argument that the court need to remove prejudicial language, explain the law, and make the title easier to understand. We have a lot of respect for the voters of Washington and are grateful the Court helped to make sure the ballot language is fair.”

Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Jay Inslee also praised the ruling.

“I applaud the Judge’s decision to remove Rob McKenna’s politically charged language from the ballot title. It’s unfortunate that it took a judge to stop Rob McKenna from playing politics with marriage. Washington is a forward-thinking, fair-minded state. Granting equality to all will bring fairness to the state of Washington. I believe this is a value worth fighting for.”

Now that the ballot title has been finalized, opponents of marriage equality can begin printing referendum petitions for circulation. Signature gathering could begin in a matter of days. We’ll be keeping a close watch on what’s going on.

If you observe signature gathering taking place for Referendum 74, we ask that you let us know using Permanent Defense’s reporting tool. This will allow us to better track what opponents of marriage equality are doing and saying in their attempt to overturn this historic civil rights advance in Washington State.