This was an exciting day. The signatures for Referendum 71 were due today. It had been reported in the local news that the anti-gay forces might not have enough signatures to get the referendum on the ballot (R-71 Looks Doomed). I was hopeful that they were going to come up short.
I accompanied the staff of Equal Rights Washington to the state capital building in Olympia. The opposition was supposed to turn in their signatures at 2:00. The Secretary of State’s office opened up this Saturday special for the signature deadline.
We stood on the steps of the capital. Pro-equality clergy joined us to go toe-to-toe with the anti-gay forces. We waited. Nothing happened. I became even more hopeful that they would not show with the required number of signatures.
Then we noticed a table with a group of people at the bottom of the steps. There were about 25 people frantically counting signatures. The Secretary of State’s office would be open until 5:00. That was their deadline.
I went down to film the signature counting. An anti-equality State Representative reprimanded me for filming the gathering, telling me it was a private event. He kept asking me my name as if I would be afraid to give it to him. I told him that I am Chris Mason and that I am making a documentary about gay rights across the country. I gave him the website address and told him that I’d be writing about him tonight. I also informed him that his people were on public property, right in front of the capital building, and that I had every right to film the not-so-private event.
A few other anti-gay folks came over to harass me and take my picture and write down my name in case they had to file a suit against me for filming the signatures on the petitions. It was a bit ridiculous. I could tell they were nervous.
A few more cars showed up with boxes of petitions in the trunk. It was about 4:00 and they were still counting. I was hoping time would run out on them. The pro-equality side took the high-ground, standing on the top of the capital steps, while the anti-equality crowd huddled around the bottom of the steps.
Eventually, the decided that they had enough signatures, and started carrying the petitions inside. They all went into a little room in the Secretary of State’s office where staff started counting the number of petitions.
They needed 120,577 signatures to move on to the verification stage of the process. According to the Secretary of State, they turned in 9,356 petitions sheets. Each sheet can contain 20 signatures, but most sheets were not full. Some sheets only have a few signatures on the page. So, while the anti-gay groups claim they turned in over 138,000, the number may be a bit less.
Now it will be up to the state to verify the signatures. This usually disqualifies 10% to 25% of the signatures, due to double names, invalid addresses, and unregistered signers. Right now, we don’t know if Referendum 71 will go to the ballot or not. It is going to be close.
It will take the state about a month to verify the signatures. If they get the required 120,577 signatures, then Washington state will have a fight on its hands. There will be a ballot question this November asking voters if they approve of the Domestic Partnership legislation. This is going to be a tough campaign if it goes to the ballot.
It was great to spend the day at the capital during such an exciting time. I just wish we had a different outcome. I got a lot of great footage though. After the signatures were counted, I conducted an on-the-spot interview with the anti-gay senator who is spearheading the referendum. I’ll try to upload the video soon. She made no sense. I asked her why she wanted to take rights away from same-sex couples. She told me that they already had all the same rights, that they could get legal paperwork to secure everything that the domestic partnership legislation would do.
Usually in the fight for marriage equality, you will hear people say that it would be fine if they called it civil unions. There are some folks who are still against civil unions, but are fine with domestic partnerships.
It was very interesting to see this push against domestic partnerships. Most anti-equality folks I speak with usually say that they have no problem with same-sex couples having the same legal rights, as long as they don’t call it marriage. That is not the case in Washington state. The anti-gay forces don’t want same-sex couples to have equal rights. This is very telling. It shows that it really is not about the word “marriage,” it is about gay and lesbian couples having legal relationship recognition. They don’t care if it is called “marriage”, “civil unions”, or “domestic partnerships” – if it legitimized same-sex relationships, they are against it.
Pro-Equality Clergy Go Toe-To-Toe with Anti-Gay Forces in Washington State’s Capital Building