A rift may be showing among forces hoping to undo a new state law granting gays the right to marry.
Signature gathering to stop gay marriage in Washington state has not even begun yet, but signs of disharmony have already emerged among those leading the charge.
It appears two separate camps of gay-marriage opponents will be running simultaneous campaigns this spring.
Stephen Pidgeon, candidate for attorney general and a gay-marriage opponent, is behind Initiative 1192, which seeks to reaffirm the definition of marriage as between one man and one woman.
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Joseph Backholm, executive director of the Family Policy Institute of Washington, who has emerged as a spokesman for the movement against gay marriage, filed Ref. 74 just hours after Gov. Chris Gregoire signed legislation to make same-sex marriage legal. The referendum would put the legislation to a public vote, asking voters to approve or reject it.
The first real public sign of a rift appeared in a recent blog by Faith and Freedom executive director Gary Randall under the headline: “Referendum — egos, errors and omissions.”
In it, Randall, a gay-marriage opponent and a Pidgeon ally, takes referendum leaders to task for snubbing prominent gay-marriage opponents — Antioch Bible Church Pastor Ken Hutcherson and state Republican Sens. Val Stevens and Matt Shea — even going so far as to suggest that they, not Backholm, should have been the ones to sign the referendum.
“While it has been downplayed, who controls a referendum is important,” Randall wrote. “It is not a matter of ego, it is a matter of maximizing the effort with the broadest possible coalition.”
Randall said he has received emails and phone calls from supporters of his organization who agree with him and have asked his advice on the referendum. He said he’s urging them to “look past the egos, errors and omissions” and support the measure.
“If these things are allowed to become a focus, it will lead us to the least and lowest,” he said. “We must seek the highest and best. We must not in any way, for any reason, oppose this effort or even sit it out silently.”
Hutcherson said he plans to support both measures and wasn’t the least bit offended by the perceived omission. “This issue is too big,” he said.
Public acrimony among religious conservatives over gay-rights ballot measures is not new.
In 2009, the Rev. Joseph Fuiten, a prominent local pastor and supporter of traditional marriage, declined to join the effort to roll back domestic partnerships under Referendum 71, saying that with so many people focused on the grim state of economy, the referendum’s timing was wrong.
The Ref. 71 campaign, led by Larry Stickney, another gay-marriage opponent, and Randall, succeeded against tremendous odds in collecting enough signatures to get the domestic-partnership measure on the ballot, though the measure lost that November by a slim margin.
Fuiten is part of the Ref. 74 campaign, called Preserve Marriage Washington, and said he doesn’t support the initiative: “We’ll have plenty to do to get the referendum on the ballot.”
Backholm, for his part, dismissed Randall’s jab. While he supports the initiative in principle, his organization will need to focus its resources on the referendum, he said.
“On issues like this, people are passionate,” Backholm allowed. “We are all trying to accomplish the same thing, and ultimately we will all be working together to accomplish the same thing.”
Referendums allow voters to repeal or affirm legislation recently passed by the Legislature. If backers of Ref. 74 gather enough valid signatures — 120,577 by June 6 — the new law allowing same-sex marriage would be put on hold until voters in November approve or reject it.
Through initiatives, citizens initiate legislation or change existing law. Backers of I-1192 need to gather 241,153 valid signatures by July 6 to put that measure before voters.
Confusion for voters?
While nothing in state law prohibits two measures with a similar purpose from appearing together on the same ballot, voters may find it confusing. Regardless of their position on same-sex marriage, they’d have to vote one way on the referendum and just the opposite on the initiative.
It’s one of the reasons Fuiten said he doesn’t support the initiative.
“I think it would be way too confusing in November if people on our side are asked to vote ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ ” A simple message of ‘reject’ is where I would like to be.”
According to Randall, initiative petitions will be available in the next few days and eventually people will be able to find them in thousands of churches, some Staples stores and online. Referendum supporters hope to have their petitions ready by the first week of March. The petitions also will be available online.
Randall said he supports both: The referendum would put the law on hold until the November ballot, he points out, and the initiative would make it more difficult for lawmakers to reintroduce the same bill.
Washingtonians cannot use the initiative process to amend the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage, as citizens have been able to do in 29 other states. Initiative 1192, if approved, would require a two-third vote of the Legislature to undo the ballot result.
Last week, Thurston County Superior Court Judge Thomas McPhee settled the final ballot language for the initiative, rewriting the actual title to state that the initiative “concerns marriage for same-sex couples” rather than stating it “concerns the definition of marriage.”
The judge also tweaked language in the initiative’s description and summary, which both now state that the measure would “define marriage as a civil contract between one man and one woman and “prohibit marriage for same-sex couples.”
The judge’s ruling cannot be appealed.
Lornet Turnbull: 206-464-2420 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @turnbullL.