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Washington same-sex marriage law blocked as opponents quality for ballot referendum

Washington same-sex marriage law blocked as opponents quality for ballot referendum

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Opponents of Washington’s newly passed same-sex marriage law on Wednesday submitted an estimated 232,000 signatures to the Secretary of State — all but guaranteeing that the question of whether gays and lesbians can marry in Washington will now be decided by that state’s voters.

Preserve Marriage Washington, the petition campaign’s sponsors, planned to bring in an additional 9,000 more signatures by the close of business today.

The number of signatures Preserve Marriage Washington gathered for Referendum 74 far exceeds the minimum 120,577 the campaign needs to qualify the measure for the November ballot, and is well above the 150,000 that the Washington secretary of state’s office recommended that the referendum campaign submit in order to provide a cushion for invalid or duplicate signatures.

The validity of signatures will be tested by the Secretary of State’s Elections Division.

Preserve Marriage Washington had submitted the signatures just one day before the state’s new law allowing same-sex marriage was slated to take effect.

“The current definition of marriage works and has worked,” said Joseph Backholm, the chair of Preserve Marriage Washington, as he stood next to stacked boxes of petitions.

Backholm also raised an alarm over the possibility that allowing same-sex marriage would lead to polygamy and marriage within families. He said the law would redefine marriage as it’s been known for generations and suggested a possible slippery slope to other types of marriage.

“We have to think about the precedent we’re creating,” he said.

Washington Governor Chris Gregoire signed into law the measure passed in February by the state legislature that legalized same-sex that made Washington the seventh state to allow legal same-sex marriages.

Approval of Referendum 74 in November means same-sex partners would be allowed to legally wed.

And while rejection of the measure would repeal the law, Peter Nicolas, law professor at the UW, said there’s nothing preventing the Legislature from bringing up the issue again in the next session.

Washington is likely to be one of four states with a same-sex marriage measure question on the ballot in this presidential election year, with every effort in each of those states backed by the National Organization for Marriage.

Washington has had domestic partnership laws since 2007, and in 2009, passed an “everything but marriage” expansion of that law, which was ultimately upheld by voters after a referendum challenge.

A recent poll by a Seattle consulting firm Strategies 360 showed that 54 percent of voters think it should be legal for same sex couples to get married, though the poll didn’t specifically ask them how they would vote on a referendum.

Across the nation, in Maryland, opponents of same-sex marriage have turned in more than enough signatures to allow that state’s voters to decide whether to retain or reject same-sex legislation passed earlier this year.

In Maine, LGBT advocates are asking voters, who repealed a same-sex marriage law in that state in 2009, to restore it.

And in Minnesota, voters will consider whether to ban gay marriage in their state’s constitution — in similar fashion to a constitutional ban that voters in North Carolina approved last month.

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