Gay marriage opponents closer to qualifying R-74

OLYMPIA — Opponents of gay marriage said Wednesday they have more than half of the signatures they need to qualify a proposed referendum seeking to overturn a law legalizing gay marriage in Washington state.

Joseph Backholm, with Preserve Marriage Washington, said that the campaign has 70,000 signatures on hand. Backers of Referendum 74 need 120,577 valid voter signatures in order to qualify the referendum for the ballot. The secretary of state’s office recommends that campaigns submit about 150,000 signatures in order to provide a cushion for invalid or duplicate signatures.

“We have every expectation that this will be on the ballot,” Backholm said.

Backholm said that so far, all of the signature collection has been done by volunteers, but the campaign hasn’t ruled out employing paid signature gatherers for the final push. He said that many petitions have not been turned in.

“We’re not concerned that there’s a lack of support for the effort,” he said. “But we want people to have a sense of urgency.”

Zach Silk, a spokesman for Washington United for Marriage, a coalition that supports the gay marriage law in Washington state, said that while he thought the 70,000 signatures collected by gay marriage opponents was lower than what he expected by this point, “we’ve said all along that we expect them to get to their signature mark.”

“We thought from Day 1 it was better to plan for them getting on the ballot and prepare ourselves to protect the freedom to marry for all couples in Washington state,” he said.

So far, Washington United for Marriage has raised nearly $690,000 in their effort to fight back attempts to overturn the law. Preserve Marriage Washington has raised just about $30,000 according to the most recent numbers with the Public Disclosure Commission, though campaign finance numbers are expected to be updated Thursday.

National groups have already promised time and money to the effort, including the Washington, D.C.-based National Organization for Marriage, which was involved in ballot measures that overturned same-sex marriage in California and Maine.

“There’s going to be a lot of money spent on this on both sides, that’s going to be the reality,” Backholm said. “We expect to be outspent, but we also expect to win.”

Another effort seeking to overturn gay marriage is still ongoing.

Initiative 1192 was filed in January by Everett attorney Stephen Pidgeon, seeking to reaffirm marriage as “between one man and one woman.” To qualify for the November ballot, he must submit at least 241,153 signatures of valid registered voters by July 6. He said Wednesday that he has collected more than 40,000 signatures. To date, Pidgeon’s effort has raised about $6,000.

Washington state has had domestic partnership laws since 2007, and in 2009, passed an “everything but marriage” expansion of that law, which was ultimately upheld by voters after a referendum challenge. The Legislature approved gay marriage earlier this year, and Gov. Chris Gregoire signed it in February.

Gay marriage is legal in New York, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Washington, D.C. Maryland legalized gay marriage this year as well, though opponents there are promising to challenge it with a ballot measure.

Voters in North Carolina on Tuesday overwhelmingly passed a constitutional amendment that defines marriage as solely between a man and a woman. North Carolina is the 30th state to pass a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. After previously saying that his views on the issue were evolving, President Barack Obama revealed his support for gay marriage in an interview with ABC News on Wednesday.

Backholm said he thought the president’s comments would help their referendum effort.

“I think this will galvanize and energize our folks,” he said. “This will help us make the case that national forces, including the president, are getting behind this effort to redefine marriage in Washington state.”

Rod Hearne, the executive director of Equal Rights Washington, said he received a call from Obama’s outreach person on gay rights’ issues to inform him of the president’s stance after his remarks were broadcast.

Hearne said that the president’s announcement may not change people’s minds, but that the conversations that ensue because of it may.

“Simply the fact that it starts those conversations already has a huge benefit,” he said.

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Online:

Referendum 74 language: http://bit.ly/Aog5aO

Preserve Marriage Washington: http://preservemarriagewashington.com

Washington United for Marriage: http://washingtonunitedformarriage.org

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