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Monday, May 21, 2012

Marriage equality in Washington, update

Last time I posted about marriage equality here in Washington, it was Valentine's Day: Gov. Gregoire had just signed same-sex marriage into law.

The law will not go into effect until June 6th. This gives those unhappy with the law (the organisation Preserve Marriage and its supporters) time to collect signatures on a referendum petition. If they get 120,577 signatures or more, the law that allows me to marry a woman will be put to a vote in November. If the petition for a referendum fails to get the required number of signatures, same-sex couples will be able to marry in June.

I was dreading a rancorous hullabaloo in the press and airwaves, the usual nonsense about same-sex marriage being no different from having sex with animals or children. Thankfully it hasn't happened--at least I haven't noticed it. Admittedly I rarely follow local news, so, just to be sure, I did some searching this weekend.

The news is pleasantly surprising.

First of all, the wording for the referendum, Referendum 74, has been agreed. According to The Olympian:

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.
The 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.
The 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 partnership 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.
This is a victory, of sorts, for those in favour of marriage equality. The Attorney General asked for R-74 to use the words 'redefine marriage'--the kind of phrase that frightens people and provokes backlash against same-sex marriage. The final wording is much more neutral, much more likely to lead to voters having a clear idea what they're really voting for in November.

Interestingly, Preserve Marriage Washington doesn't have nearly the number of signatures they'd hoped for at this stage. Again, according to The Olympian, they only have about half the signatures they need. No one is naive enough to think they won't make their total--they haven't yet started to pay for signature-gathering, for example--but it's an indicator of the sluggish response from Washington's citizenry.

This is not because Preserve Marriage and its supporters aren't trying. The Archbishop of Seattle asked priests to circulate R-74 petitions in church. Many of his priests have revolted:
The congregation at Seattle’s Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Church gave the Rev. Tim Clark a standing ovation Sunday when he announced that the parish would not gather signatures for a referendum to repeal same-sex marriage.
The parish became the sixth in Seattle to opt out of the petition drive for Referendum 74 that has been endorsed and foisted on parishes by Archbishop J. Peter Sartain.
Do you recognise that name? Sartain is the priest appointed by the Vatican to head the reform of the American nuns' Leadership Conference of Women Religious--affectionately known, in our house, as Nun-Crusher.

The Seattle Times has more on how local Catholics are responding. The Most Reverend Sartain has misread the sentiments of his congregation.

So far, it's all rather encouraging. I don't doubt that R-74 will end up on the ballot, but I'm hopeful it will be defeated. Sadly I'm less hopeful that this current civility will continue until November. Various national organisations will be pouring money into the campaign and I think it's very likely things will get unpleasant. To confuse matters, something called Initiative 1192 is also circulating (they need more signatures than a referendum--twice as many--but they have a month longer). If the initiative and referendum make it to the ballot, voters who support same-sex marriage will be horribly confused: because the first will require a 'No' and the second an 'Accept'.

So if you live in Washington state, please Decline to Sign either. And please pass that message along to friends and family.

But for now, let's see if we can keep the discourse civil. And let's be especially kind to one another. Play nicely.

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