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Wash. gay partnership foes turn in signatures

Sat., July 25, 2009, 8:17 p.m.

OLYMPIA — Sponsors of a campaign to overturn the state’s “everything but marriage” domestic partnership law turned in their petition signatures Saturday and said they believe they have enough to force a public vote on the issue.

The signatures for Referendum 71 were turned in to the Washington secretary of state’s office Saturday afternoon. The new expanded domestic partnership law was scheduled to take effect Sunday but is now delayed until the signatures can be counted.

To qualify for the November ballot, the law’s opponents must have 120,577 valid voter signatures, and election officials have suggested that referendum sponsors turn in about 150,000 as a buffer.

“We feel OK,” said R-71 organizer Gary Randall. He said at least 135,000 signatures were submitted, and more signatures were expected to be turned in before the 5 p.m. deadline.

If there are enough signatures for a vote, the law will be delayed until the outcome of the election.

The signatures were turned in a day after opponents of the new law announced a final push to force a public vote, saying the effort was “too close to call.”

About two dozen people showed up at the Capitol steps Saturday to submit signatures and count those that were collected. The process of officially counting and verifying them begins next week and could last until the end of August.

If there aren’t enough signatures, the domestic partnership expansion will immediately take effect.

The new domestic partnership law expands on Washington’s existing partnerships. The newest version adds registered domestic partners to all remaining areas of state law that presently apply only to married couples. Those statutes range from adoption, to child support rights and obligations, to pensions and other public employee benefits.

The underlying domestic partnership law, which passed the Legislature two years ago, provided hospital visitation rights, the ability to authorize autopsies and organ donations, and inheritance rights when there is no will.

Last year, lawmakers expanded it to give domestic partners standing under laws covering probate and trusts, community property and guardianship.

Under state law, opposite-gender seniors also can register as domestic partners.

As of this week, more than 5,700 domestic partnership registrations had been filed in Washington since the first law took effect in July 2007.

A political group called WhoSigned.Org has already said it will publish online the names of people who signed petitions for the referendum. It is patterned after campaigns in other states where gay rights ballot measures have been proposed.

The petition-listing effort is not supported by the official campaign trying to keep R-71 off the ballot.

Domestic partnership opponents could have their names and other information published by the Web site only after R-71 petitions are verified by the secretary of state’s office. At that point, the signed petitions are public records.

The domestic partnership bill is Senate Bill 5688.

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