Monday, February 20, 2012

WA Referendum 74 and 2012 Marriage Equality Outlook

Referendum 74 is the name of the potential ballot measure which voters in Washington State will face on November 6, 2012 to determine whether they want to APPROVE or REJECT the marriage equality bill recently passed by the Washington State legislature and signed by Governor Chris Gregoire on Monday February 13.

According to the Washington Secretary of State, what voters will see is:
Ballot Title
The legislature passed Engrossed Substitute Senate Bill 6239 concerning marriage [and voters have filed a sufficient referendum petition on this bill.] 

This bill would redefine marriage to allow same-sex couples to marry, modify existing domestic-partnership laws, allow clergy to refuse to solemnize or recognize marriages and religious organizations to refuse to accommodate marriage celebrations. 

Should this bill be 

___ Approved 

___ Rejected

Ballot Measure Summary
The bill would redefine marriage to allow same-sex couples to marry, apply marriage eligibility requirements without regard to gender, and specify that laws using gender-specific terms like “husband” and “wife” include same-sex spouses. Clergy could refuse to solemnize or recognize any marriages. Religious organizations and religiously affiliated educational institutions could refuse to accommodate weddings. The measure would not affect licensing of religious organizations providing adoption, foster-care, or child-placement. Domestic partnerships for seniors would be preserved. 
The reference to domestic partnerships is significant (as is the use of the word "redefine" but we'll get to that in a moment). In 2009, Washington State passed a comprehensive domestic partnership statute which included same-sex couples and opposite sex couples where one partner is over 65. That law was also subject to a referendum, known as Referendum 71. Referendum 71 was approved by voters 53% to 47%.
Most people expect Referendum 74 to also be approved as well, but you never know because voters have never voted in favor of a ballot measure which would legalize marriage equality. There have been 31 statewide ballot measures since 1998 on the issue of same-sex marriage and the pro-equality side has one once (in Arizona in 2006 and that was then overturned by another ballot measure in 2008). It is true, however, that usually the issue on the ballot has been whether to ban same-sex marriage outright, not whether should same-sex marriage be illegal or legal. The only votes where that has occurred are in Maine 2009 (Question 1: No 53%, Yes 47%) and California (Proposition 8: No 52.3%, Yes 47.7%). Maine's Question 1 is basically identical to Washington's Referendum 74 while California's Proposition 8 was an initiative constitutional amendment taking away the right of same-sex couples to marry in the future (or have their out of state marriage recognized by California) 173 days after the California Supreme Court ruled that the California constitution included such a right. Proposition 8 has been declared to violate the United States Constitution by a 3-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Interestingly, Maine voters will have an opportunity to affirmatively legalize marriage equality at the ballot box again in November 2012, and it is very likely an identical situation to Washington's Referendum 74 and Maine's Question 1 will occur in Maryland this November.

So, there will most likely be 3 opportunities for voters to have the specific up or down question on ending discrimination against same-sex couples in marriage this November (Maine, Washington and Maryland).

Polling in the first two situations (Proposition 8 in 2008 and Question 1 in 2009) and subsequent polling nationally and in other states have showed that the wording of the specific question presented to voters makes a huge difference in how they respond. This is why the choice of the words "redefine marriage" by Washington State Attorney general Rob McKenna (who is a declared Republican candidate for Governor) is noteworthy (and problematic). Marriage is not being "redefined" when same-sex couples are allowed to receive civil marriage licenses in addition to opposite-sex couples. To believe otherwise is to believe in a heterosexual supremacist talking point. Exactly the same piece of paper from the government will be given to same-sex couples as are given to opposite-sex couples, if the legal ban on providing such marriage licenses is ended. This piece of paper has nothing to do with any church or mosque or synagogue.

Additionally, one's person's ability to marry has absolutely no impact on anyone else's marriage. This is self-evident. There are tens of thousands of couples who are legally married around the country. How has this impacted the other legally married couples in opposite-sex relationships? The people of Massachusetts were the first to experience marriage equality in 2004 and they readily acknowledge this truth (67% said in a poll that marriage equality in 2004 has had little or no impact on their lives). Whether same-sex couples are issued civil marriage licenses by a state has no impact on someone's religious views about what marriage should be. To believe otherwise is to impose one's own religious views on a secular society, forcing one religion's views on people who believe otherwise, and that itself violates religious freedom!

1 comment:

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