SEATTLE — Washington state’s same-sex marriage law was blocked from taking effect Wednesday when opponents submitted more than 230,000 signatures calling for a referendum on the measure — opening yet another contentious battleground for one of the nation’s most divisive issues.
State officials are expected to determine this week whether the measure qualifies for the fall ballot. Opponents of the law, passed on a bipartisan vote by the state Legislature in February, said they believe Washington voters will defeat the measure, joining every other state that has put the issue to a public vote.
“Thirty-two states have voted on this issue. No states have voted to redefine marriage. People think this country is divided down the middle on this issue, and that’s simply not true,” Christopher Plante, spokesman for Preserve Marriage Washington, said in an interview.
“The fact of the matter is, if you look at what Americans have done, from the deepest blue states like Maine, California and Wisconsin to the Bible Belt, when they’ve had a chance to define marriage as one-man, one woman, that’s what they’ve done,” he said.
Proponents said they expect to expand the number of signatures to 242,000 by day’s end, double the number needed to qualify for the ballot and possibly setting a state record.
But a wide coalition of supporters of the law said the petitions do not reflect actual voter sentiment. They said Washington, which earlier upheld the state’s 2009 “everything-but-marriage” law, has a better chance at winning a public vote than other states.
“It’s true that 32 out of 32 states have gone the wrong way on this, so we’re definitely fighting against pretty daunting precedent,” Zach Silk of Washington United for Marriage, which will try to defeat the referendum, told the Los Angeles Times. “We would certainly consider ourselves the underdogs, but we feel like we’re in a strong position, and Washington is probably one of the more likely places where we can win.”
Supporters of the same-sex marriage law have signed on a number of influential Washington businesses, including Microsoft and Starbucks, to defeat the referendum.
Former progressive radio talk show host Ron Reagan, son of former President Ronald Reagan, will headline the anti-referendum campaign’s “Get Engaged to Defend Marriage Equality” fundraising gala on Saturday. On June 13, sex advice columnist Dan Savage is inviting supporters to a live taping of his podcast, followed by wedding cake and tequila shots.
Referendum backers are turning to the churches. Supporters include the Washington Catholic Conference. The popular South Hill Calvary Chapel in Puyallup, Wash., has put the gay marriage issue at the top of its website.
“Washington State is at a pivotal moment in history,” the church said in a message to its members. “The family may never be the same. Our children, may never know how God designed the family. We must stand for righteousness and support marriage between one man and one woman.”
So far, both sides have poll numbers claiming public support.
A telephone poll of 500 voters conducted May 22-24 by Strategies 360 for the Associated Press found that 54% of voters think it should be legal for same-sex partners to get married, compared to 33% opposed.
But a QEV analytics poll in February, cited by referendum backers, found that 57% of voters believe that redefining marriage is “not necessary,” compared to 36% who say it is necessary.
Seven other states and Washington, D.C., have legalized same-sex marriage. Maryland is also having a public referendum vote this fall, while Maine voters will vote on an initiative to legalize same-sex marriage. Minnesota voters will decide on a constitutional amendment declaring that marriage is a union between one man and one woman.