Thurston County Superior Court Judge Thomas McPhee has finalized the ballot language on R-74, the referendum on Washington’s marriage equality law, and in so doing has scrapped language offered by the attorney general’s office that appeared to put an anti-gay spin on the question.
The language now reads:
Statement of subject: The legislature passed Engrossed Substitute Senate Bill 6239 concerning marriage for same-sex couples, modified domestic-partnership law, and religious freedom.
Concise description: This bill would allow same-sex couples to marry, preserve domestic partnerships for seniors, and preserve the right of clergy or religious organizations to refuse to perform, recognize, or accommodate any marriage ceremony.
Summary (does not appear on ballot, but does appear on petitions):
This bill allows same-sex couples to marry, applies marriage laws without regard to gender, and specifies that laws using gender-specific terms like husband and wife include same-sex spouses. After 2014, existing domestic partnerships are converted to marriages, except for seniors. It preserves the right of clergy or religious organizations to refuse to perform or recognize any marriage or accommodate wedding ceremonies. The bill does not affect licensing of religious organizations providing adoption, foster-care, or child-placement.
The judge eliminated language offered by the attorney general’s office that would have said the legislation “would redefine marriage,” so the petitions being circulated would have have stated:
“The bill would redefine marriage to allow same-sex couples to marry, apply marriage eligibility requirements without regard to gender and specify that laws using gender-specific terms like ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ include same-sex spouses.”
The phrase “redefine marriage” is one equality-foes the National Organization of Marriage have called the “most effective” language for winning public support against marriage equality.
The legal challenge, launched by the League of Women Voters of Washington and PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), claimed that the attorney general’s proposed title was not neutral and needed to be altered.
Gay marriage opponents filed a separate complaint however charging that the petition wording wasn’t nearly strident enough. They are now bitterly disappointed with the judge’s neutral language.
“It’s much worse,” Joseph Backholm of the Family Policy Institute of Washington said of McPhee’s changes to wording submitted by the Attorney General’s Office Backholm is part of the Preserve Marriage Washington campaign that now plans to print petitions this afternoon. “They’ll be out by tomorrow,” Backholm said.
However the ACLU praised the rewording as fair and no longer “misleading,” with executive director Kathleen Taylor as saying: “We are pleased that the court has provided a fair and accurate title for Referendum 74. The language approved by the court rightly says that the marriage law is about the right of same-sex couples to marry legally and that the law preserves religious freedom. …The language proposed by the Attorney General was confusing and misleading. Now the ballot title for R-74 enables citizens to know clearly what their vote will mean.”
With this legal challenge now resolved and the petition wording agreed the signature gathering process to put the state’s new marriage equality law on the ballot can begin.
A “Decline to Sign” campaign has been started to try and prevent the issue even reaching the ballot, with the website carrying the message: “By declining to sign, voters are saying that marriage equality is important enough that it should not be subject to vote, but put straight into law.”