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Sun March 11, 2012
Blur of same-sex marriage referendums confusing
Originally published on Fri March 9, 2012 12:00 am
OLYMPIA, Wash. – Over the next few months , someone may approach you with a petition. Opponents of same-sex marriage are trying to force a referendum vote on Washington’s new marriage equality law. There’s also a separate initiative to define marriage as between one man and one woman. Meanwhile, gay rights supporters are also collecting signatures for their own non-binding pledge. Confused?
Let's say a petition gatherer comes up to you. He tells you he’s collecting signatures for Referendum 74, a measure to put same-sex marriage on the ballot in November. I went out and asked a few people if they would sign it.
This woman opposes same-sex marriage, but says she won’t give her signature for the referendum.
“Well, I’m not even wanting it to go that far, I just want it to be not done at all.”
And this woman supports same-sex marriage but says she will sign the petition.
“Whether anybody is gay or not, I think they have the right to happiness.”
These two women wouldn’t give me their names because this is a controversial issue. Here’s the thing. They’re confused whether yes means no or no means yes. Stay with me here.
If you support same-sex marriage and want to keep Washington’s marriage equality law in place, you probably don’t want to sign the petition that would force a referendum. And if you don’t support same-sex marriage, you may be inclined to say yes to the petition.
You could also be like Paul Schubert from Rochester who wants a vote either way.
“I’m really undecided at this point in time," he says. "But I think people need the freedom of choice.”
But what could make this situation even more confusing is that R-74 isn’t the only petition in the works. There’s also Initiative 1192. It proposes to change the wording in the Washington Constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman.
Initiative 1192 sponsor, Stephen Pidgeon, says there may be confusion now, but he’s not worried about that for the fall.
“The initiative is very simple," Pidgeon says. "The initiative is creating new law and it asks the people in the state of Washington to define marriage as between one man and one woman, which would, by its definition, prohibit marriage between same sex couples.”
So, he says if people base their decision on the initiative, they’ll know to vote the opposite way for the referendum. And it’s just the reverse for the people on the other side of the debate.
But there’s one gay rights advocate who’s started his own campaign to keep both measures from even making it to the ballot. Steven Puvogel, a college student from Aberdeen, created a website with the slogan “Decline To Sign Referendum 74 & Initiative 1192.”
“So then we have people like me saying ‘please don’t sign this, let this law become law.’ Otherwise if they do manage to get enough valid signatures, then we have to turn the gear on a dime and say ‘no we want them to approve the measure.’”
And that’s what makes Puvogel’s own campaign a little confusing; Right now his website asks people to decline to sign R-74. But if it does make it to the ballot, he’ll change his message to “vote yes for R-74.”
“Yeah, we don’t want to be caught in that trap,” says Zach Silk. He’s the manager for the gay rights campaign Washington United For Marriage. His coalition is not asking people to decline to sign.
“Basically, we don’t believe that we’ll be able to prevent them from getting on the ballot so it’s actually not that productive to do a decline to sign campaign or something like that.”
On the other side of the referendum campaign, Joseph Backholm, Executive Director of the Family Policy Institute, says he’s confident in the petition gathering efforts.
“It’s a significant task but it’s one that we will accomplish in terms of getting it on the ballot," Backholm says. "Then, the bigger job in all of this is getting the public to vote the right way.”
He says that’ll entail heavy campaigning to educate voters. That’s going to be important on both sides of the issue.
On the Web:
Referendum 74 - challenge to same-sex marriage law:
Initiative 1192 - definition of marriage: