Monday, May 11, 2009

Gay Culture War reaches the West again as conservative groups try to block Referendum 71 in the State of Washington

The Culture War continues as citizens in the State of Washington are being asked to sign Referendum 71, a referendum seeking to overturn legislation awaiting the governor's signature that offers "everything but marriage" to gay and lesbian domestic partners.

No one needs a campaign to stomp on legislation that doesn't hurt anyone. The bill in question tidies language in numerous statutes and legislation to give registered gay and lesbian domestic partners equality in business and legal affairs, the same rights married couples enjoy.

Referendum 71 was filed by Larry Stickney, president of the Washington Values Alliance. Supporters need to get more than 120,500 valid voter signatures by July 25 in order to qualify for the November ballot.

Stickney said he was filing the referendum on behalf of a broad-based coalition, saying that foes were going to "do all we can to turn this back."

Governor Chris Gregoire said she will sign the domestic partnership expansion into law on May 18, saying it "embraces the values of the people of the State of Washington."

The filing of the referendum delays the scheduled July 26 effective date of the law until the signatures are counted. If opponents qualify for the ballot, the law is delayed until the results of the November election.

The bill expands on previous Washington state domestic partnership laws by adding such partnerships to all remaining areas of state law where currently only married couples are mentioned. The statutes range from labor and employment rights to pensions and other public employee benefits.

Stickney said that opponents to the law worry that it will ultimately lead to courts legalizing same-sex marriage in the state.

"This kind of legislation kind of tees it up for the courts to act," he said.

Four states have legalized same-sex marriage: Connecticut, Massachusetts and Iowa through court order, and Vermont through legislative action.

Same-sex marriage was legal in California for five months until a state referendum to ban it passed last fall. Bills to allow same-sex marriage are currently before lawmakers in New Hampshire, Maine, New York and New Jersey.

New Jersey, California, New Hampshire, Oregon, Washington and the District of Columbia have laws that either recognize civil unions or domestic partnerships that afford same-sex couples similar rights to marriage. Thirty states have gay marriage bans in their constitutions.


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