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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Eye On Olympia

Referendum language released — court challenge next?

The Secretary of State's office today released the summary and ballot language for Referendum 71, which seeks to overturn a just-signed law granting domestic partners most of the rights of spouses.

Anyone can appeal the wording. Last year saw a heated challenge by opponents of the state's Oregon-style assisted-suicide law. They argued that it was "physician-assisted suicide," since a doctor fulfills a patient's request for lethal drugs. Proponents of the law successfully argued that it was wrong to term it "suicide," on the grounds that the law only applies to terminally ill people, and that dying people cannot choose to live.

Here's the ballot summary proposed by the AG's office late this afternoon:

"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, responsbilities and obligations granted by or imposed by state law on married couples and their families."

The ballot description is shorter, and if anything is going to have voters scratching their heads, it's probably that one:

"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."

Don't be surprised if you see a court challenge this time. For one thing, words matter. Ask any pollster.

And even if a challenge fails, it would eat up time in court, cutting proponents' signature-gathering time by up to a week. And the clock is ticking. Foes of the new law have until July 25 to collect 120,577 valid voter signatures. And to protect against people signing multiple times, or giving a fake name, or not being registered voters, the Secretary of State's office recommends a total of about 150,000.

Short takes and breaking news from the Washington Legislature and the state capital.