Two political activists many Washingtonians had never heard of are scoring huge victories in a campaign to roll back domestic-partnership benefits for gays, despite past problems that challenge their claim to the moral high ground.
With no real plan, a scattered base and well-heeled opponents, two political activists many people have never heard of are scoring unexpected victories in a campaign to roll back domestic-partnership benefits for gay couples in Washington state.
Facing resistance even from within their own ranks, they’ve landed wins in state and federal courts, and were triumphant where it mattered most: a contentious signature count in the Secretary of State’s Office that ultimately credited them with enough valid signatures to get Referendum 71 onto the Nov. 3 ballot.
Larry Stickney, campaign manager for Protect Marriage Washington, and Gary Randall, his philosophical soul mate, see the tightly contested battle as one not about pension rights and sick leave but as their last chance to protect traditional marriage in Washington.
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From dissimilar backgrounds, the two preach that unchecked “special rights” for gays are taking the state and nation down a wrongheaded moral path.
They are unflinching in that conviction, despite messy personal histories that challenge their claim to the moral high ground.
The twice-divorced Stickney, a 51-year-old construction worker turned conservative-political activist, has denounced as blatantly untrue allegations from an ex-wife that he abused her.
And Randall, an Oregon resident who can’t vote on the measure he helped get on the ballot, has had a record of unpaid taxes, which he says he’s since paid off.
“There’s lots of divorce and indiscretion on our side; we’re not perfect,” Stickney acknowledged in a recent interview near his Arlington home. But that “doesn’t mean we can’t say one man and one woman is still the ideal,” he said. “That’s still the best, even if I’ve failed at it.”
For his part, Randall, a 68-year-old ordained minister and former TV-show host, says he has as much at stake in Washington’s future as anyone. He has family all across the state whom he visits frequently. “I was born and raised here, and I intend to move back here,” he said.
Anne Levinson, chairwoman of the campaign to retain the domestic-partnership law, said the two are lying to voters by telling them the debate is about marriage when it’s really about domestic-partner benefits.
“They are out of step with the views of mainstream Washingtonians,” Levinson said. “And they haven’t been letting the facts get in their way.”
A big man with a rugged appearance, the onetime Alaskan pipeline worker speaks unapologetically about what he sees as a culture clash driven in part by special rights sought by gay and lesbian people.
With just a year or so of college, Stickney admits to being the last person anyone might expect to be a political activist, as he has been for the last 15 years.
From his Arlington home, and along with his third wife and a son, Stickney has done much of the campaign’s heavy lifting — logging long hours, corralling supporters and crisscrossing the state to meet with volunteers.
Supporters describe his passion and energy, recalling his frequent 2 a.m. e-mails, with one backer saying “It’s because of him that campaign is succeeding.”
Although raised in a Christian home — a preacher’s kid — Stickney said it wasn’t until he fell into deep despair after the failure of his second marriage 13 years ago that he truly found Christ.
A rebel in his youth and an athlete, “I became a guy known for charming girls, the whole thing — sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll” — the kind of lifestyle, he now believes, set the foundation for his two failed marriages.
Stickney has three children with his present wife, Polly; two with his second wife, and one with his first wife, to whom he was married for four years during the early 1980s.
The details of his second marriage, which ended bitterly in 1996, are laid bare in papers filed in Kitsap County Superior Court.
His ex-wife, Cheryl Ann, accused him of abuse and in 1994 obtained a restraining order against him. Stickney and his current wife later sought a restraining order against her, saying she had entered their home uninvited.
The documents paint a picture of Stickney as a disciplinarian who sought to run his family with strong traditional values. He strongly denies ever abusing his wife or children.
A court-appointed advocate for the Stickney children described two parents in a “power struggle over discipline and child rearing — she too lax; he too rigid.”
“Both parents have or have had the inability to deal with anger,” she wrote. Both, she pointed out, had completed anger-management classes.
Stickney said that failed marriage crushed him emotionally. “I was a disgrace to my parents, my family and anyone who knew me,” he said. “There were days that I wept.”
But none of that disqualifies him from seeking to protect traditional unions, he said. “We are all God’s children — capable of all the mistakes and blunders that we can conjure up in our lives.”
Bill Dubay, longtime gay-rights activist, doesn’t buy that, calling Stickney a hypocrite for violating the very principle — “till death do us part” — upon which marriage is built.
“Here’s a man, twice divorced, who obviously can’t handle marriage himself … working tirelessly to see to it that [Dubay’s partner] John and I are denied basic benefits.”
Stickney credits the late state Sen. Ellen Craswell and her husband, Bruce, with rescuing him from despondency and leading him to Christ — and to politics.
He spent six years in Olympia working as a legislative staffer for three conservative state representatives and worked on the Republican-orchestrated effort that won passage of the state’s 1998 Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between one man and one woman.
In 2008, Stickney formed the conservative Washington Values Alliance. Joseph Fuiten, pastor of Cedar Park Assembly of God Church in Bothell, who has championed conservative political causes, calls Stickney a “very hardworking guy.”
“He’s a true believer,” Fuiten said. “He isn’t in it for himself; he’s in it for the cause.”
Unlike the plain-spoken Stickney, Randall is more guarded.
With his white-collar background, he serves as the campaign’s de-facto communications coordinator, talking with the media and getting the message to supporters. Stickney, for one, says he’s come to depend on Randall for guidance and support.
Yet some who might be seen as natural allies — including some conservative lawmakers and religious groups — declined to talk about Randall, at least for the record, or did not respond to requests for comment.
And one who did — onetime ally Fuiten — said they parted ways “over business practices and because the pastors that I was working with didn’t want to work with him.”
Randall says he doesn’t know why Fuiten said some pastors didn’t want to work with him.
And he thinks the reference to “business practices” has to do with his sending out a fundraising letter for a poll, not knowing a donor had already come forward.
But Randall also has supporters.
Ron Boehme, the Port Orchard-based director of U.S. Renewal for Youth with a Mission, says Randall is an effective and compassionate leader. “I feel, in this movement, he’s the one that brought clarity and unity to moving ahead,” persuading those who care about traditional marriage to fight now rather than wait, Boehme said.
Randall serves on the board of Protect Marriage Washington, the official R-71 campaign political-action committee. But he solicits money for the campaign through his own Faith & Freedom PAC, which has raised about $17,000.
Randall said he doesn’t fundraise through Protect Marriage Washington because his own PAC was already established and had momentum.
Randall was born in Yakima into a longtime churchgoing family: His father, an orchardist, his mother, a homemaker, and his grandparents all were members of the Assemblies of God denomination.
Randall and his wife of 48 years, Marjorie, met in high school and attended the same church. He attended several colleges, including Northwest University in Kirkland, but didn’t graduate. He entered the ministry and was ordained around 1970, serving in various West Coast churches.
For 12 years he also hosted a daily TV talk show featuring prominent conservative Christians such as Pat Robertson and Phyllis Schlafly.
He left church work behind in the early 1990s to help start Pamplin Communications, a corporation he ran that eventually included Christian supply stores, and music, broadcasting and entertainment divisions. He retired in 2001 as its president.
Randall is reluctant to talk about the specifics of his history of unpaid taxes, which records show date back at least to the 1990s.
But he did say that one dispute with the IRS was over how much he owed on a large payment from Pamplin when he retired, and that some of the earlier tax debts were the result of cash-flow problems.
“I had made money and then I didn’t make money,” Randall said. “It took a while to make enough money to pay the taxes.”
In any event, he said, all his taxes are now paid.