Shortly after 1:30 p.m., the state house of representatives will convene to debate and pass the domestic partnership bill, sponsored by Representative Jamie Pedersen (D-43), which would extend every state-granted right of marriage to registered same-sex partners. The bill passed the state Senate by a wide margin in March despite surging opposition from religious conservatives. Now in House, the bill has more cosponsors than votes needed to pass. The debate should be fiery, and viewable streaming from TVW.
But Republicans are attempting two desperate strategies to gum up its progress. “I think they’ve got a couple dozen amendments,” says state Senator Ed Murray (D-43), the prime sponsor of the senate version of the bill. A minority party typically tries to slow down bills by introducing and debating amendments. Murray expects conservatives to introduce amendments “related to children.”
“I think that entering this with a majority of legislators being co-sponsors is a strong indication that we can defeat any negative amendment,” says Josh Friedes, a spokesman for Equal Rights Washington, a nonprofit that has been supporting the bill. “I think the amendments indicate the radical right’s determination to make a bill that is non-controversial with the majority of the legislature and electorate into a controversial bill.”
But conservatives have another trick up their sleeves.
The Faith and Freedom Network, a conservative religious group that maintains two nonprofits and a PAC, is meeting today, planning to file a ballot measure to go before state voters that would repeal Washington’s domestic partnership laws. The group sent a fundraising email to members on Monday seeking donations toward a referendum or an initiative.
Gary Randall, president of FFN, moments ago confirmed: “We are in the process of organizing a referendum.” He says the group has not decided if the measure would seek to repeal only this year’s legislation or would also attempt to reverse the two previously passed domestic-partnership laws. Regardless, he says, “If I didn’t believe it would pass, I wouldn’t put the work into it.”
The state legislature passed domestic partnership laws in 2007 and 2008, granting some rights to same-sex couples. Conservatives never challenged those laws by referendum. However, the bill up for a vote today is by far the most sweeping, by establishing parity of rights for domestic partners as married couples. “It elevates domestic partnerships to the level of marriage," says Randall. "It redefines a number of statements about marriage."
“We are taking a statewide poll this week,” Randall says. “We’ll make the poll public when we get it, unless it’s so ugly that I don’t want to tell anybody.”
The polling results—and the result on a ballot measure—could differ based on how FFN frames the issue. Previous opinion research conducted by the University of Washington showed the majority of state voters support domestic-partnership rights for same-sex couples; however, a majority also oppose full-scale marriage rights for same-sex couples. In recent deceptive television ads against the domestic partnership bill, opponents only described the measure as "marriage"—never acknowledging the bill didn’t use apply to “marriage.” Randall would not divulge the language used in the poll now underway. But it’s almost certain that if the religious conservatives do challenge the domestic-partnership law with a ballot measure, they will continue to disingenuously represent the measure as a defense of marriage.
[Update: The bill passed; info here.]