May 27, 2009 in City

Domestic partnership foes aim to change wording on ballot

Rachel La Corte Associated Press
 

OLYMPIA – Conservative activists want to change the wording of a proposed ballot measure that would overturn the Legislature’s latest expansion of domestic partnerships for gay and lesbian couples.

A petition to amend the referendum language was filed Tuesday in Thurston County Superior Court by Larry Stickney, president of the Washington Values Alliance.

Opponents of the domestic partnership expansion take issue with the way state attorneys wrote the title and summary that would appear on the November ballot.

Currently, the proposed ballot summary notes that while the bill expands the rights granted or imposed by state law for married couples and their families, “registered domestic partnerships are not marriages, and marriage is prohibited except between one man and one woman.” Under the proposed changes, that language would be removed.

The referendum will only make the ballot if proponents collect more than 120,500 valid voter signatures by July 25.

But by filing a challenge, referendum supporters have delayed that process, because they can’t start circulating petitions until the challenge is resolved.

Stickney did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment. But Gary Randall, president of the allied Faith and Freedom Network, said the coalition seeking to overturn the law wanted clarity in the ballot language. He said that while there is concern that they are delaying their ability to collect enough signatures, they were still certain they could do it.

“But we’re not naive to the fact that it’s going to be a challenge.”

Groups that support the domestic partnership law, including the recently formed “Washington Families Standing Together,” will likely intervene in the lawsuit to make sure the language of the ballot title and concise summary are accurate, said Lisa Stone, executive director of Legal Voice.

“We are confident that once the ballot title is finalized, the voters of Washington will not be misled by attempts to equate domestic partnerships with marriage, and that they will reject this attempt to strip couples in Washington of their rights.”

The latest expansion of domestic partnerships was signed into law by Gov. Chris Gregoire last week, but because of the filing of the referendum, the July 26 effective date is delayed until petition signatures are counted.

If opponents qualify their referendum for the ballot, the law is delayed pending the results of the November election.

The measure expands on previous Washington state domestic partnership laws by adding such partnerships to all remaining areas of state law where currently only married couples are mentioned. The statutes range from labor and employment rights to pensions and other public employee benefits.

The underlying domestic partnership law, which lawmakers passed 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 that law to give domestic partners standing under laws covering probate and trusts, community property and guardianship.

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