NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Tuesday, March 13th, 2012

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.

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