With Washington’s marriage equality law almost certain to go before voters at the November ballot, a lawsuit has been filed claiming that the state Attorney General’s ballot title on the issue is “prejudiced.”
The legal challenge, launched by the League of Women Voters of Washington and PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), claims that AG Rob McKenna’s proposed title, which uses the phrase “redefining marriage,” is not neutral.
The Attorney General’s proposed language uses the term, saying: ”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 plaintiffs, in their challenge, say:
“A fair and accurate concise description would read: This bill would permit marriage for same-sex couples, protect religious freedom by ensuring clergy and religious organizations are not required to perform marriages or accommodate marriage celebrations, and preserve domestic partnerships for seniors.”
In case readers might think this is splitting hairs, the suit, filed Monday in Thurston County Superior Court, argues that the term “redefining” in particular is one that is often used by marriage equality opponents.
Indeed, the suit highlights that not only is the language discriminatory, it mirrors what the National Organization of Marriage have called the “most effective” language for winning public support against gay marriage.
McKenna is currently campaigning for Chris Gregoire’s position as governor. He has previously said that his personal position against same-sex marriage does not interfere with his professional role.
“As a Catholic I feel that marriage is a union of one man and one woman, as a voter I voted in favor of Referendum 71 to provide equal legal rights for same-sex couples, I still think that’s the right law,” says McKenna. “For me it’s not a matter of public policy, it’s a matter of faith. I recognize not everyone holds that view. Once the vote has been taken, my views are set aside. I’m all about enforcing the will of the voters and upholding that law.”
Zach Silk of Washington United for Marriage is quoted as saying the group is watching McKenna closely. Asked by Slog if marriage equality advocates should be concerned about the AG’s choice of phrasing, he then adds:
“This is the first of many steps to write the referendum language [...] We will fight to make sure the language is fair, balanced and accurate. The attorney general’s proposal has some obvious flaws.”
This legal challenge will need to be resolved before those wanting to advance Referendum 74 can commence the signature gathering process.
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.”