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CAMPAIGN UPDATE: Raising awareness to approve Ref. 71
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CAMPAIGN UPDATE: Raising awareness to approve Ref. 71

by Shaun Knittel - SGN Staff Writer

On November 3, Washingtonians will be asked to vote to approve or reject Referendum 71. After months of signature gathering and an exhausting, nail-biting, down-to-the-wire signature check, the fate of the nearly 6,000 same-sex domestic partners in the state will be decided during Washington's first statewide all-mail-in vote.

The State Elections Division began printing Voters Pamphlets and county ballots on September 10. By law, the Voters Pamphlet is required to carry every single word of the legislation.

The R-71 ballot summary says, "Same-sex couples, or any couple that includes one person age 62 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, responsibilities, and obligations granted by or imposed by state law on married couples and their families."

On November 3, voters will be asked to approve the referendum, meaning they support the extended benefits for registered same-sex domestic partnerships, or reject, meaning they do not wish to see domestic partners in Washington receive all rights, responsibilities, and obligations granted by or imposed by state law on married couples.

With just six weeks until ballots are mailed and eight weeks until they are due, Washington Families Standing Together (WAFST), the LGBT advocacy group leading the Approve Referendum 71 Campaign, has shifted gears from litigation to action.

WAFST Chair Anne Levinson said the fight isn't about the interpretation of referenda status because "something far more important is at stake."

"There are nearly 6,000 couples - 12,000 individuals - many of whom have children, who are registered as domestic partners in our state. They live in every county, in all parts of the state," Levinson told SGN. "The domestic partnership law ensures that all of these families have the same protections, rights, and responsibilities as their neighbors. The law guarantees that they will be treated fairly, especially in times of crisis."

Levinson said some domestic partners are seniors. She said often seniors can't marry without sacrificing hard-earned social security, military or pension benefits. Others, she said, are Gay and Lesbian couples who rely on the domestic partnership law to provide essential protections to their benefits.

"It was for these families that more than 155 organizations joined together to form the Washington Families Standing Together's Approve 71 Campaign," Levinson said. "To take a stand in support of the domestic partnership law."

Levinson said it is on behalf of "these families that more than 70 volunteers spent every day from the end of July through September 2, observing the signature verification process." She said they participated respectfully throughout, solely for the purpose of wanting to ensure that the referendum process was fair, accurate and consistent with law.

Levinson says that even though volunteers observed what they perceived as errors, the Secretary of State certified the measure last week.

"Although WAFST believes this determination may in fact be in error, WAFST must instead focus it efforts on Election Day," she told SGN.

"Ballots for Washington's November 3 General Election get mailed to voters in six weeks," Levinson said, adding, "The Approve 71 Campaign is reaching out to voters across the state to let them know they need to vote "approve" on R-71 to keep the domestic partnership law so that all families are treated fairly and equally in our state."

One direction the campaign has taken is to educate communities beyond Seattle's borders. WAFST has set up a number of "Approve 71" community organizing meetings in Bellingham, Everett, Kitsap, Olympia, Spokane, Tacoma, the Tri-Cities, Vancouver, and Yakima. WAFST officials are asking LGBT persons to bring their friends and family to join the thousands of other volunteers in their community in hopes of preserving the existing domestic partnership law.

Locally, WAFST has scheduled a Seattle community-organizing meeting September 15 from 6-8 p.m. at the Broadway Performance Hall.

APPROVAL OF R-71 IMPORTANT TO FAMILIES

Laurie Jinkins, a member of the WAFST coordinating committee, has been working in Tacoma and Pierce County to gain support for the Approve Referendum 71 Campaign. Jinkins, a Lesbian who recently celebrated a 20th anniversary with her partner and their 9-year-old son, said seeing that R-71 is approved on November 3 is very important to her family.

"Every single family in the state of Washington ought to have basic protections," Jinkins told SGN. "Such protections are fundamentally important for everybody."

Jinkins said she's really excited about the work that's going on in Tacoma. From the very beginning, they've been organizing.

"Frankly, I am overjoyed about how active and involved Tacoma and Pierce County is," she said. "We are set on seeing this referendum pass."

Jinkins says there has been a fair amount of endorsements coming out of the county. Since the beginning, local organizers had a goal of 100 donors out of Pierce County - a goal, she says, they are very close to reaching.

The mother and same-sex domestic partner said she was one of the first to volunteer to go to Olympia during the signature verification process at the Secretary of State's office.

"Now that the referendum has been placed on the ballot, we are stepping up our fundraising efforts," Jinkins told SGN. "Our first phone banking was done last night, and we have one scheduled each week for the next eight weeks."

She said they are working to expand the phone bank effort to anywhere from two to four nights a week.

FUNDRAISERS BEING PLANNED

Getting the community involved is essential to approving R-71 in November, Jinkins said. She is working on putting together a fundraiser based around anniversaries. Soon, she said, John McCluskey and Rudy Henrya will celebrate their 50th anniversary. Jinkins hopes to coordinate that anniversary with the 40th year since the Stonewall Riots and the 30th anniversary of the Tacoma Lesbian Concern (TLC).

She said the Tempest Bar in Tacoma is looking at dates for a planned block party that will feature live bands and other activities aimed at raising money for the "Approve 71" campaign.

"I am incredibly proud of the organizing and work that's been done down here," Jinkins said. "The people working to approve this referendum are very committed."

Potential good news for WAFST and Washingtonians who support R-71 came this week as The Washington Poll released a report showing public support for same-sex domestic partnerships has increased substantially over the past three years. The poll was conducted by University of Washington researchers.

According to the poll, in 2006, about 59% of registered voters in Washington supported either same-sex marriage or domestic partnerships with the full rights of marriage, compared with 41% who favor fewer rights for same-sex couples.

By 2008, 66% of registered voters said they supported same-sex marriage (36.7%) or full domestic partnerships (29.3%). Just 32.6% were in support of lesser rights.

The poll found support for domestic partnerships and Gay marriage much higher around the Seattle area and among Democrats and liberals than in Eastern Washington and among Republicans and conservatives.

"The debate over the legal recognition of same-sex couples will no doubt remain controversial for some time in Washington State. Despite this, granting Lesbian and Gay couples the rights of marriage in their entirety in the form of domestic partnerships is a position supported by a majority of Washingtonians," the researchers concluded. "This support is widespread across demographic groups, and is a majority position for those in the potential middle."

The researchers plan to poll again in October, specifically, about R-71.

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