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Washington voters say ‘I do’ to same-sex marriage

In the Nov. 6 general election, Washington state voters passed Referendum 74, which legally recognizes same-sex marriages.

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Opponents of gay marriage say their campaign is under attack

With the Nov. 6 election less than three weeks away, things are getting heated in one of the state’s most controversial ballot measures. Opponents of gay marriage say their campaign is coming under attack.

Gov. Chris Gregoire spoke on a night of celebration for supporters of gay marriage Thursday night in Seattle.

Zach Silk, with Washington United for Marriage, said, “Tonight is about coming together and supporting the freedom to marry, for all loving couples.”

The event was a far cry from a rally earlier Thursday by opponents of the gay marriage referendum, R-74.

Chip White, with the opposing Preserve Marriage Washington, said same-sex marriage activists disrupted speakers, taunted the crowd and ripped campaign signs out of the ground.

That came one day after King County sheriff’s deputies arrested a man for malicious harassment, saying he tore a “Reject R-74” off a volunteer’s car and shoved a woman who came to her rescue.

“He yelled at the top of his lungs, he screamed at her, he said, ‘I`m gay and I`m proud and I hate you,’ ” White said.

He added that several of his group’s signs have been stolen, spray-painted, even burned around the state.

Silk called what happened this week isolated incidents and the majority of supporters of gay marriage are respectful of the other side.

“Everybody on either side of this issue, passions run deep,” Silk said. “But we all want to make sure that at the end of this campaign, we go back to our regular lives and we want to respect one another.”

President Barack Obama released a statement Thursday voicing his support for legalizing same-sex marriage in Washington state.

The announcement for support of Referendum 74, a measure on the ballot to legalize gay marriage, came in from the president’s Washington Press Secretary Paul Bell. The announcement read:

“While the president does not weigh in on every single ballot measure in every state, the president believes in treating everyone fairly and equally, with dignity and respect. Washington’s same-sex marriage law would treat all Washington couples equally, and that is why the President supports a vote approving Referendum 74.”

Zach Silk, the campaign manager for Washington United for Marriage, a group supporting R-74, said the president’s support for marriage equality reflects a shift in attitudes in Washington state and across the country.

“As more people, and more voters, realize that only marriage fully protects and supports families, they move towards supporting marriage for same-sex couples couples and approving Referendum 74,” Silk said.

Silk went on to say that the campaign to approve R-74 is in the “home stretch,” and thousands of volunteers have been mobilized.

“We feel momentum is on our side, and having the President weigh in on approving Referendum 74 puts an extra gust of wind in our sails,” he said.

Washington voters face a number of high profile ballot measures this fall, but none is generating the money and controversy as the Referendum over same sex marriage. Millions of dollars are being spent on both sides fighting for your vote.

Ever since the State Legislature approved same sex marriage earlier this year, opponents have been pushing hard to have it overturned. They gathered enough signatures to get it on the ballot and now voters have the final say.

But same sex couples all across the state, helped by many of their allies, eagerly await the day when they’re able to legally wed.

“We are a normal loving couple,” said Jana Simpson, who has been with Nancy Woods for 11 years.  “We just want to be a married couple. I’d like to introduce Nancy as my wife.”

Leaders of Washington United for Marriage have been working hard all year long on behalf of couples like Simpson and Woods

“Anyone that wants to make a lifetime commitment to the one they love, we believe they should have the freedom to marry,” said Zach Silk, campaign manager of the effort to approve Referendum 74.

Opponents, such as Joseph Backholm of Preserve Marriage Washington, argue extending marriage rights to same sex-couples would hurt kids.

“We believe fundamentally the institution of marriage serves the purpose of providing the ideal environment for children,” Backholm said.

Backholm further argues that there’s a slippery slope for society if same sex marriage is approved.

“Why can’t brothers get married,” he asked. “Why can’t foursome people get married, because they can say they are loving and committed to each other. If that is the purpose of marriage, then there is no rational reason to deny anyone a marriage license.”

Silk disputes any suggestion that children of gay couples have an inadequate upbringing.

“All reputable social science backs up that the most important thing for kids is to be in a stable household with two adults,” he said.  “The couples we are talking to our stable households with two adults who want to raise kids, and that’s great for kids.”

Backholm argues that the history of marriage supports one man and one woman.

“Moms and dads are not interchangeable because men and women are different and they are not interchangeable,” he said.

Two years ago the State Legislature approved Washington’s so-called “Everything but Marriage” law that gave registered domestic partners all the available rights of marriage couples, except the label.

Opponents of Referendum 74 say that should be enough. Pastor Joseph Fuiten of Cedar Park Church in Bothell argues that when voters are told “that gays have every right of marriage right now, and that we don’t need to change marriage in order for gays to be treated fairly, when you phrase it in that way, support for gay marriage drops to 35%.”

Supporters argue that marriage confers a special status that doesn’t come with domestic partnerships.

“No one dreams of asking someone to domestically partner them,” said Silk. “Marriage is special and it’s really unique and it’s the way that we in our society tell people that we are in loving committed relationship with someone, and we are willing to stay with them forever.”


Same-sex marriage battle set to begin soon

This fall’s gay marriage measure, Referendum 74, is already attracting millions of dollars, but so far the campaigns have been relatively quiet, saving up for a TV ad-war that will surely be fierce starting after Labor Day.

The pro-gay marriage side has raised the most money by far – $6 million so far, which includes $2.5 million from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. The anti-gay marriage side has raised only $500,000.

Despite the big money advantage, proponents of same sex marriage say they aren’t taking anything for granted given this history of these ballot measures in other states.

“We have lost 32 out of 32 times, so we still consider ourselves the underdog,” said Zach Silk, Referendum 74 campaign manager. “We can’t get complacent. We know they have deep pockets and come in late.”

Silk says he’s on alert to see if and when his opponents make a big move.

“[I’m] very curious about what the other side is going to do,” Silk said. “They were able to gather so many signatures early in the summer, and we’re really curious what they are going to do to talk about their message.”

The opponents of gay marriage say they don’t know if millions will come their way, especially since there are three other states with this issue on the ballot and national money is being spread to all those contests. But they are still confident of their chances even without a similar warchest.

“Absolutely, we’ll be outspent,” said Chris Plante, campaign manager for Preserve Marriage Washington. “We’ve been outspent every other time.It doesn’t come down to dollars, it comes down to votes.”

Given that gay marriage has lost at the ballot box in every state that voters have weighed in, what makes supporters think that Washington will be any different and break that pattern?

“We know based on all those losses that we needed to do things differently,” Silk said. “One of the things we needed to do differently was to talk to voters in the summer through volunteer to voter contact and we have been doing that since June.”

Plante says his side will use the playbook they have used in other states. They will also remind voters that Washington already has domestic partnerships that offer all the rights and privileges of those who are married.

“We’ve already proven that the grassroots here in Washington state want this on the ballot by getting almost a quarter of a million signatures,” he said.  “The people of Washington state believe that marriage is one man and one woman.”