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.
Meanwhile, 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.