Lawsuit Over Washington’s ‘Prejudiced’ Marriage Referendum Title


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.

From Seattle Pi:

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.

Via The News Chick:

“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.”

You can learn more about the campaign here.


Related Reading:

Gov. Gregoire Signs Washington Marriage Equality Bill

Microsoft Supports Marriage Equality in Washington

WA Lawyer Moves to Repeal Gay Marriage (Before It’s Even Been Legalized)


Photo used under the MorgueFile user license, with thanks to mensatic.


LD B6 years ago

No doubt George Orwell would be pleased to know that his prognostications re. the ruse of Newspeak were indeed prescient.

Mary L.
Mary L6 years ago

Go plaintiffs! I take it the AG does not approve. Pity for him.

Beth M.
Beth M6 years ago

"Redefining Marriage"- no. "Marriage Equality"- yes. Wording does matter. If you go to court, you better listen to the question before you answer because you may be tricked into saying the wrong thing.

John Mansky
John Mansky6 years ago

Thank you for the article...

Lloyd H6 years ago

Ain't it just really interesting that the Repug Attorney General of WA, who is now running for Governor of WA "just happens" to chose wording for the ballot that comes straignt out of NOM. All WA voters have to remember is that for the Refferendum one vote approve to approve the law passed by the WA legislature and signed by Gov. Gregoire. And to vote no on I-1192 the intentional voter confusion add on that would reverse everything back to before 1960.

Lyn Franks
Lyn Franks6 years ago

This bill will not redefine the marriage of heterosexual couples. The day after this bill is signed,married heterosexuals will only wake up to the same old-same old.

Doyal D.
Doyal D6 years ago

Hmmm, I always thought divorce re-defined marriage.

Ben G.
Ben G.6 years ago

Rob McKenna must be kept as far away from the levers of power as possible. This partisan, bigoted, and prejudicial language has no place on our ballots. As our Attorney General, Rob McKenna is abusing his powers to further discrimination against same-sex couples. I shudder to think what he might do as Governor.

Jay Inslee is running against McKenna, and is a strong supporter of marriage equality. His words speak for themselves:

Nicholas L.
Nicholas L6 years ago

Well I'll say regardless how it's worded, I'm voting for equal rights for the LGBT community in November.

Bessie V.
Bessie V6 years ago

Yes, it makes far greater sense to allow for the equality of all people rather than to assume that the acquisition of a basic human right too long denied is to be considered a "redefining." We all love, and the right to marry the individual we love should not be predicated on wrongful ordinances denying freedom to some while giving said freedom to others...its tyrannical to say the least, and shameful that it is only just now being considered. Equality is the day all can celebrate this sacred bond without unjust boundaries and criticism. Peace and blessings :]