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  WINDY CITY TIMES

States prepare for marriage battles
by Lisa Keen, Keen News Service
2009-09-09

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In what is being described as perhaps the "narrowest margin ever for qualifying for the ballot, the Washington State Secretary of State's office announced Aug. 31 that opponents of gay relationships in that state collected enough valid signatures to secure a ballot measure this November.

The measure, which will be known as Referendum 71 or R-71, seeks to overturn Washington's domestic partnership law, which provides same-sex couples with "everything but marriage."

The news comes as same-sex couples became eligible to marry Sept. 1 in Vermont. The legislature there overrode a gubernatorial veto in the spring to enact an equal marriage law there beginning Sept. 1. Early reports suggest only a relatively small number of couples applied for licenses, which they could do beginning in July, perhaps because many could obtain marriage licenses in one of several others states that provide for equal marriage licensing.

And meanwhile, Maine's secretary of state is expected to announce in the next few days that a ballot measure seeking to overturn that state's newly minted equal marriage law has been certified for the ballot there this November.

Washington: Referendum 71

While the Washington Secretary of State's office has validated enough signatures to enable an anti-gay ballot measure there in November, the office has not yet officially certified the measure for the ballot.

Washington Families Standing Together, a group seeking to preserve the domestic partnership law, filed a lawsuit Aug. 27 challenging the Secretary of State's signature validation process. The lawsuit asked a state court to stop the Secretary from certifying the petitions, contending that the Secretary accepted some petitions that do not meet state requirements. A King County judge refused Sept. 2 to interfere with certification of the ballot measure, and the Secretary of State then certified Referendum 71.

The group seeking to overturn the domestic partnership law, Protect Marriage Washington, also filed a lawsuit—in federal court—seeking to seal the petitions from public scrutiny. The group claims that pro-gay activists will harass voters who signed the petitions. The state Public Disclosure Commission has already rejected the group's request to conceal the signatures and a federal judge issued a temporary order stopping release of the signatures, pending a final decision.

The Washington secretary of state's Web site has been making daily reports about the count process and the lawsuits during the past month as election officials examined each of 137,689 signatures turned in by Protect Marriage Washington." The group needed 120,577 to qualify for the ballot. Early indications suggested the rejection rate of signatures might be high enough to prevent the group from reaching the requisite number. According to the Web site, the rejection rate on petitions has been about 18.5 percent historically, but Protect Marriage handed in a much smaller number of signatures, meaning it had to reach a rejection rate that was under 12.4 percent to qualify. In the end, its signature rejection rate was 11.8 percent.

And then there's Maine

Having enough signatures has not been in question in Maine. There, a coalition of groups called "Stand for Marriage Maine" turned in more than twice the 55,000 signatures they needed.

Betsy Smith of Equality Maine said bluntly weeks ago that certification for the ballot was a foregone conclusion.

"Even if they throw out tens of thousands of names, they are still going to qualify," said Smith.

Nevertheless, the secretary of state is expected to announce that a measure to repeal the state's newly passed marriage-equality law has been certified for November's ballot. That puts the law, which was set to go into effect this month, on hold.

The battle against same-sex marriage licensing in Maine is being led by anti-gay newcomer Bob Emrich, pastor of an independent Baptist Church in Plymouth, Maine—population 1,257, according to the 2000 census.

Since forming its campaign committee in June, the Stand for Marriage Maine coalition has taken in $343,690 in contributions—99.7 percent of which has come from only three entities: the National Organization for Marriage ( $160,000 ) ; the Portland diocese and affiliated groups ( $152,000 ) ; and the state chapter of Focus on the Family ( $31,000 ) .

Meanwhile, the key group working against the referendum—"No on 1: Protect Maine Equality"—has raised $143,290, of which only $35,000 has come from national groups ( $25,000 from the Human Rights Campaign and $10,000 from the ACLU ) . Equality Maine, another group working to defend the equal-marriage law, has raised $63,561—of which $20,000 came from a national group, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

Read the full article—including what's happening in California—online at www.WindyCityMediaGroup.com .


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