When a handful of right-wing groups filed a referendum to repeal the domestic-partnership bill last week, they hoped conservative and religious groups would join together to halt the gay-marriage parade. But instead, their coalition is already fracturing and gay-rights organizations are growing faster than ever.

“We are building our capacity in a way we could not do without a referendum threat,” says Josh Friedes, advocacy director of Equal Rights Washington (ERW), which supported the domestic partnership bill. Within the first 72 hours of launching a multi-organization campaign against Referendum 71 last Friday, over 7,500 people signed a pledge refusing to sign the petition. In a typical three-day period during an outreach campaign, only 100 to 300 would sign up with ERW. “It is turning into a goldmine for identifying supporters of marriage equality,” he says. “We are in essence creating a network army.”

Numerous other groups—including groups that are not focused on gay-rights issues—are also piling on. Among them is Fuse, a state-based online advocacy group, which has been appealing to its 100,000-person list to organize against Referendum 71. “We believe that everyone deserves equal protection under the law and we have little patience for the right-wing hate machine,” says Fuse director Aaron Ostrom.

4570/1242170455-decline2signref71.jpgMeanwhile, a Facebook group to oppose Ref. 71 grew by 100 people an hour in its first two days, says Joe Mirabella, the Washington organizer of jointheimpact.com, which orchestrated the anti-Prop 8 protests last November. (In the time it took me to write this short post, the group gained 20 new members.) Moreover, the people signing up want to help run a campaign to defeat the referendum, he says. “People are really motivated to volunteer. They are coming forwards saying that ‘This is what I’m good at, how can I help?’”

The ballooning volunteer and donor base creates the groundwork for a campaign to completely legalize gay marriage in Washington State in the next few years. “In many ways, this is probably our opponents’ worst nightmare,” says Friedes.

Join the Facebook group here. Sign the decline-to-sign petition here.