AdWatch: Ad for gay marriage claims rights at risk

OLYMPIA — Title of ad: “Chris”

Length: 30 seconds.

Airing: The ad started airing Friday in Seattle and Spokane markets on broadcast channels, and statewide on cable channels.

Script: Chris Morningstar, listed on the ad as “WA mother &grandmother”: “I’m so proud of my daughter Sarah. She and her partner, Cheryl, are just wonderful parents. When Cheryl was diagnosed with brain cancer, my heart just went out to all of them. It really hurts watching them fight this cancer, and what’s just as hard, is watching what they’ve had to go through because they’re not legally married. One night in the hospital Cheryl had a seizure, she was asking for Sarah and no one called. Only marriage guarantees that all couples can be there for each other when it really matters.”

Key images: The ad begins with a shot of Morningstar speaking, followed by a black and white family photo of her daughter, her daughter’s partner and their daughter, then cuts back to Morningstar.

Analysis: The TV ad, the second from Washington United for Marriage, which supports the state’s gay marriage law, implies that unless Referendum 74 is approved by voters, same-sex couples will not have hospital visitation rights.

Same-sex couples do already have that right under the state’s first domestic partnership law that passed in 2007, granting couples about two dozen rights, including hospital visitation, the ability to authorize autopsies and organ donations and inheritance rights when there is no will. That law passed following emotional testimony from Seattle resident Charlene Strong, who spoke of the death of her partner, Kathryn Fleming, who died in December 2006 after she became trapped by rising waters in her basement studio during a storm. Strong told lawmakers during public hearings about how she was initially barred from the hospital room and later encountered obstacles in trying to donate Fleming’s retinas, and in planning the funeral.

That law was expanded twice, both in 2008 and again in 2009, granting same-sex couples all the state-granted rights that came with marriage, known as the “everything but marriage” law. That 2009 law was upheld by voters that same year.

This year, lawmakers passed a law allowing gay marriage in the state, and Gov. Chris Gregoire signed it in February. Preserve Marriage Washington, which opposes gay marriage, gathered enough signatures for a referendum, and the law, which hadn’t yet taken effect, remains on hold pending a November vote.

Referendum 74 asks voters to either approve or reject the state’s gay marriage law.

Chip White, deputy campaign director for Preserve Marriage, calls the new TV ad “a complete falsehood.”

“The ad claims that same-sex domestic partners do not have hospital visitation rights,” he said. “That’s just not true.”

Anne Levinson, an adviser with Washington United, said that the ad just highlights that some couples have run into issues over the years, in spite of the current law. She said that the incident mentioned in the ad happened last year.

“Everyone knows what marriage means, it’s universally understood,” she said. “When you use a different term, people treat it differently and act differently. Even when there’s a law on the books, and even when that law is well-intentioned, in times of crisis, the exclusion of marriage for same-sex couples has been harmful to those couples.”

Levinson said she wasn’t aware of any lawsuits filed based on violations of the state’s domestic partnership law.

Same-sex marriage is currently legal in New York, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Washington, D.C.

Maryland legalized gay marriage this year as well, but that state will also have a public vote this fall. In Maine, voters will decide on an initiative to approve same-sex marriage three years after a referendum overturned a law passed by the Maine Legislature. And in Minnesota, voters will decide whether or not to pass a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage there.

Preserve Marriage Washington is scheduled to start running TV ads in the state the week of Oct. 14.



Referendum 74 language:

Preserve Marriage Washington:

Washington United for Marriage:

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