People trying to overturn a new law giving expanded rights to same-sex domestic partners have filed an 11th-hour appeal of the proposed ballot language.
The move sets their own signature-gathering effort back at least a week, but seems aimed at boosting their odds by trying to make voters see domestic partnerships as virtually identical to marriage.
Shortly before the 5 p.m. deadline today, Arlington's Larry Stickney filed an appeal with the Thurston County Superior Court. He wants a judge to re-word the description and ballot summary of Referendum 71.
Here's the summary language originally proposed by the Attorney General's office (the bold-facing is mine, to highlight the differences):
Same-sex couples, or any couple that includes one person age sixty-two or older, may register as a domestic partnership with the state. Registered domestic partnerships are not marriages, and marriage is prohibited except between one man and one woman. This bill would expand the rights, responsibilities, and obligations of registered domestic partners and their families to include all rights, responsibilities, and obligations granted by or imposed by state law on married couples and their families.
Here's what Stickney proposes instead:
This bill would expand the rights, responsibilities and obligations of registered domestic partners to be equal to the rights, responsibilities and obligations granted by or imposed by state law on married couples, except that domestic partnerships will not be called marriages.
Similarly, here's the original description wording proposed by the AG:
"Concise Description: This bill would expand the rights, responsibilities, and obligations accorded state-registered same-sex and senior domestic partners to be equivalent to those of married spouses, except that a domestic partnership is not a marriage."
And here's how Stickney would like it to read:
"Concise Statement: This bill would expand the rights, responsibilities and obligations of state-registered same-sex and senior domestic partnerships, to be equal to the rights, responsibilities and obligations of married couples, except that domestic partnerships will not be called marriages."
The point, clearly, is to suggest that domestic partnerships are now essentially the same thing as marriage. That's what critics of the new law have been saying -- and proponents have been denying -- for months. In fact, state Sen. Ed Murray, one of several openly gay lawmakers and the sponsor of the bill, has repeatedly called the legislation the "everything but marriage" bill.
According to Brian Zylstra, spokesman for the Secretary of State's office, the case has been assigned to Judge Thomas McPhee, but no date's yet been set. (Case number: 09-2-01278-1)
The court typically handles such cases as part of its Friday motion calendar, meaning that the earliest date would be May 29. The Secretary of State's office says that June 5 or June 12 is probably more likely.
If it's the latter date, Stickney and affiliated church groups and social conservatives would have just six weeks to print and circulate petitions. To get R-71 on the November ballot for a statewide vote, they need at least 120,577 voter signatures by July 25th.