Signed, sealed, and delivered–that is the status of same-sex marriage in Washington State, as of 11:30 this morning. And now that a Republican legislator’s impassioned support of marriage equality has gone viral (from Walla Walla’s district, no less!), it’s time to rest easy, basking in the warm glow of justice…
Oh, wait. There’s no time to relax. A mere three hours after Governor Gregoire signed marriage equality into law, the NOM people were filing Referendum 73 in Olympia to revoke the law with a ballot initiative.
Who and what is NOM, you ask? Welcome to the awful new world in carpetbagging.
They call themselves the National Organization for Marriage, but there’s scant evidence that they’re working to support marriages in general. Bankrolled by only a few wealthy, extremely conservative people, NOM presents itself as part of an enormous movement against same-sex marriage. This organization from the northeast is now on the ground in Washington State where bigots—I mean, anti-gay activists—will try to trick state residents into signing a petition to repeal the marriage equity law. They have 90 days from yesterday to gather enough signatures (a little more than 120,000 are needed by June 6) to put the repeal referendum on the ballot this fall. When everyone will be sending in their votes for that other election. The one for President.
NOM is backing a newly formed group, Preserve Marriage Washington, to run the petition drive. Back in 2009, a similar-sounding organization, Protect Marriage Washington, worked to remove the domestic partnership law from Washington State through a ballot measure, and lost. They were also resistant to sharing any of the names of people who signed their petition to put the measure on the ballot, citing harassment from pro-gay activists. And in 2009, NOM worked behind the scenes to defend Protect Marriage Washington through that legal process.
Fast forward to spring 2012. To make all of this more complicated and much more murky, the petition for Referendum 73 sounds like it supports same-sex marriage. Washington State, as it turns out, allows deceptive language in campaigns and in things like petition drives and referendum language. It is perfectly legal, according to the Washington State Supreme Court, to walk around with a petition that says something like, “Save Same-Sex Marriage in Washington!” and have it be a petition to remove same-sex marriage from the civil code.
In this light, resisting the calls to share signatures could mean organizations like NOM and Preserve Marriage Washington want to genuinely protect people from being ridiculed as prejudiced people, or it may be that people would then recognize more easily that what they signed is not actually what they intended to sign. That’s speculative, of course.
What isn’t a guessing game is the state Supreme Court’s ruling, nor the GOP-managed attorney general’s office’s interpretation of their ruling:
The state supreme court has said you can lie in campaign utterances and campaign materials. We have no jurisdiction over extra words and sales pitches that sponsors choose to put in petitions. —David Ammons, Spokesperson for the Washington State Attorney General’s Office, in an interview regarding the 2009 referendum to abolish domestic partner benefits in the state
Because of this ruling, Referendum 73 not only may make whatever claims it likes, it has no motivation to be clear. A person with a petition can swear up and down that signing will help keep same-sex marriage in the state, and the language on the petition could be intentionally confusing so as to obfuscate the actual purpose of the referendum. Meanwhile, opponents of this campaign to overturn marriage equality are faced with limitations under the law. This is from the Washington Secretary of State’s office:
What if I’m against an initiative or referendum? Do I have the right to urge people not to sign a petition?
Yes, as a matter of freedom of speech. Opponents of an initiative or referendum can certainly express the opinion that it would not be a good idea for a voter to sign a petition. An opponent, however, does not have the right to interfere with the petition process. In fact, it is a gross misdemeanor to interfere with somebody else’s right to sign a petition, and there are also laws against assaulting people. You can certainly express your opinion, but you must remember that other people have rights to their opinions as well, including the right to sign petitions you may not like.
I could not in good conscience (or legally) tell people to disrupt Preserve Marriage Washington’s petition drive, but I certainly could request a copy of the petition and circulate it on my own blog as the Petition Which Should Not Be Signed. So I have requested one, muahaha. And I’ll post pictures of it and try to get a counter campaign going. I may have bigger priorities in my life than same-sex marriage, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to stand by while bigoted, problematic, entitled people try to usurp my representative government and spin their cause as if it’s anything more than blatant prejudice.
Meanwhile, send some love to New Jersey, my home state. The state legislature there is about to pass a same-sex marriage law, even though they’re facing a veto from their Republican governor. He claims it should be a ballot initiative.
The last time New Jersey looked at civil rights on a ballot initiative it was 1915. Male voters struck down the possibility of women getting the right to vote. Perhaps ballot initiatives are not the way civil rights get supported in the United States.