Petition for Referendum 71 stalls expansion of rights
OLYMPIA – Sponsors of a campaign to overturn the state’s domestic partnership law turned in their petition signatures Saturday and said they believe they have enough to force a public vote.
The expanded “everything but marriage” domestic partnership law was scheduled to take effect today, but is now delayed until the signatures can be counted, a process that could take up to a month.
To qualify for the November ballot, supporters of Referendum 71 must have 120,577 voter signatures. Supporters say they have about 138,000 signatures.
“I feel our signatures are pretty clean,” said campaign spokesman Gary Randall.
If they have enough signatures, the law will be delayed until the outcome of the referendum. If they fall short, the domestic partnership expansion will immediately take effect.
The signatures were turned in a day after opponents of the new law announced a final push to force a public vote, calling their effort “too close to call” and asking people to show up on Saturday at the Capitol to turn in their signatures to the secretary of state’s office.
Greg MacPherson, of Kent, Wash., said he drove two hours to turn in about a dozen signatures.
“We want to stand up and be counted,” he said.
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 and 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.
Josh Friedes, a spokesman for Washington Families Standing Together, said that if the referendum does end up on the ballot, he is optimistic that voters will retain the law.
“We need to have a conversation about the needs of gay and lesbian families,” he said. “So in some ways, this referendum brings to the foreground a lot of issues, and to that extent the dialogue can propel the movement forward.”
A political group called WhoSigned.Org has already said it will publish online the names of people who signed petitions. The petition-listing effort is not supported by the official campaign trying to keep R-71 off the ballot.