by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Staff Writer
The battle to protect Washington State's same-sex domestic partnership law gained momentum this week as Washington Families Standing Together (WAFST), the Gay advocacy group in charge of the Approve Referendum 71 Campaign, spoke directly to the LGBT community and joined forces with some of the Pacific Northwest's biggest businesses in solidarity to approve R-71.
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 or imposed by state law on married couples.
"The most profound social justice issue of our time" is how Rep. Jamie Pedersen (D), of the 43rd Legislative District, described the Gay equality movement to an audience of over 300 people on September 15 at the Broadway Performance Hall during a town hall campaign organizing meeting put on by WAFST.
Pedersen, a Gay legislator who has consistently championed same-sex rights in Washington State, was the opening speaker for the central campaign's bid to the community to approve Referendum 71 this November. The popular state lawmaker encouraged LGBT people to talk with friends, neighbors and coworkers about the importance of keeping the domestic partnership law that offers important protections and rights that have been kept from Gay Washingtonians for years.
"I challenge each one of you to get involved directly with the Approve Referendum 71 Campaign," Pedersen said. "Become engaged with the campaign and your community. This November, we have a chance to show everyone what kind of state we are, and what kind of country we ultimately want to be."
WAFST Campaign Manager Josh Friedes echoed Pedersen's call to action, saying, "It's essential that we engage our neighbors in positive conversation. It's important for them to know we need to take this journey to equality together."
Anticipating an audience that would exceed the capacity of the auditorium, the campaign planned a presentation mirroring the one inside the auditorium that was held in the lobby of the Broadway Performance Hall near the ticket booth. Both audiences were a mix of LGBT persons as well as straight allies, senior citizens whose domestic partnership rights are under attack, and advocates wearing green "Approve R-71" T-shirts.
Tuesday night's meeting was the first tangible sign that the campaign to maintain the domestic partnership law is on, and that litigation, for the most part, is over. Regardless of how or why Protect Marriage Washington got enough signatures to place R-71 on the ballot has become a moot point. It's on the ballot, certified by the state. One of the most important battles for same-sex equality in the state of Washington is underway.
According to Friedes, complacency is something WAFST cannot afford to see happen. He told the audience that every vote counts and that, unfortunately, we are up against numbers that show "voters who tend to stay at home are people who support LGBT rights." He said, however, WAFST and the LGBT community is up for the challenge.
"Bottom line," Friedes said, "we are on the ballot. Vote early and vote to approve Referendum 71."
The General Election ballots are scheduled to arrive as soon as October 14, which is a mere six weeks away. Friedes said this is a historic campaign for a referendum that barely made the ballot during the state's first all-mail-in vote (except in Pierce County).
Education is key, Friedes told the audience. He mapped out a plan for people to effectively communicate to the people who may be confused about the referendum process or ballot language, and who may not understand which way to vote.
"Every referendum in Washington State works the same," he said. "A referendum simply asks, 'Should an existing law be approved or rejected?' Because the domestic partnership law already exists, we simply have to vote to approve it, so that we may keep it."
Friedes asked people to "constantly" visit www.approvereferendum71.org for news and updates. He said the website has a number of tools that can aid the community in educating themselves, as well as the moveable middle voting populous, whose vote is important in the success of the referendum's approval.
The domestic partnership law is a working families law, Friedes said. The law affects everyone in our community. Friedes said he's "proud of the fact that we've included seniors in this law."
In a bid to silence the central campaign's critics, Friedes mapped out the direction WAFST is headed. The strategy it will employ include a statewide phone banking effort, canvassing neighborhoods with a door-to-door campaign, and major media advertising.
Still, he leveled with the audience. "We need your help," he said. "There are simple things each one of you can do that will make a big difference for the Approve Referendum 71 Campaign."
He asked everyone in the room to think of themselves as a leader. Imagine, he said, if everyone in the room spread the word to 25 other people outside the room. Imagine "how fast word would get out that we need to keep the domestic partnership law."
In addition, he asked people to change their voicemail messages to remind callers to vote to approve R-71, add a message about the campaign to their e-mail signatures at work, and write a letter to the editor of a newspaper telling their story and why R-71 should be approved. He continued, appealing that each person utilize Facebook and other social networking sites to spread word of the campaign. Specifically, little things like updating your status bar to approve R-71 messages or changing your picture to the campaign placard would greatly help, he said.
Friedes said that visibility is important, but cautioned against negativity. He said the community has to be very careful about the way they communicate because, statistically speaking, Washington voters are turned off by conflict. The way you speak to potential voters, he said, is terribly important.
"We each have a story. Day in and day out, we are fighting for full civil rights," Friedes said. "We have to be smart about that fight. It is important to harness our anger in a constructive way, so we can win."
He said engaging in bashing is "not a productive conversation with the movable middle." Instead, he said the community should remind people that we have many of the shared values that other Washington citizens have, "because our families are no different than our neighbor's families."
At the meeting's end, the message that WAFST and Rep. Pedersen had sent seemed to be that winning the Approve Referendum 71 Campaign is real, that - should the community pull together and tell their story - they will collect the number of votes needed to beat those who would take rights away from registered same-sex domestic partners and the elderly.
In the end, Friedes said, the fight is about moving Washington State forward toward realizing that Gay marriage may one day be possible on the Olympic Peninsula.
"Our hope should be," he said, "that the children born today will never know a time when LGBT people didn't have equal rights."
The type of campaign that WAFST needs to conduct in order to see that R-71 is approved is a costly one. Friedes said the campaign needs a minimum of $1.5 million to properly conduct a media blitz that would include TV advertisements, print materials for door to door canvassing, important online advertisements, and other collaterals.
The good news for WAFST and their supporters came in the form of checks this week. With support pouring in from both private and major corporations, WAFST wasn't staring into empty campaign coffers at week's end.
Two national LGBT advocacy groups made donations to the Approve Referendum 71 Campaign. The Human Rights Campaign and The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force both made substantial $10,000 contributions.
"Yesterday, during HRC's weekly phone bank and the Seattle area organizing meeting, HRC governor Lacey All and political co-chair Steve Gibbs presented a $10,000 check to WAFST to help fund the Approve Referendum 71 Campaign," the Human Rights Campaign said in a September 15 press release.
The Human Rights Campaign also announced that the money raised at the 2009 Pacific Northwest Gala Dinner to support HRC's work in Washington, Oregon and beyond, will be directly donated to the Approve Referendum 71 Campaign, as well.
Local labor pitched in as well. On September 9, SEIU Washington State Council wrote a $10,000 check, while SEIU 775 Northwest contributed $1,000 and a Teamsters local gave $250.
FOR A GROWING COALITION
On September 15, The Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce voted unanimously to join employers and more than 170 labor, nonprofit, senior citizen and community groups across the state in support of the Approve Referendum 71 Campaign.
"This law is about the rights and responsibilities of adults in committed relationships raising families, running businesses, and owning property. Diversity and inclusiveness in the workplace, and in our state as a whole, are core values in our business community," said Taylor Washburn, chair of the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce. "We must protect and enhance them if we want to attract, retain, and grow a talented workforce needed to stay competitive in the global economy. Supporting the Approve Referendum 71 Campaign sends the right message about the economic environment we have and want."
Six of the Northwest's largest employers - The Boeing Company, Microsoft Corporation, Nike, Puget Sound Energy, RealNetworks, and Vulcan Inc. - announced on September 14 their support for the Approve Referendum 71 Campaign.
In a joint statement, the five employers said that the state's domestic partnership law "simply recognizes that, regardless of their sexual orientation, people may enter into partnerships and create family units that deserve respect and equal treatment. & We urge a vote to approve R-71."
"We are a group of businesses who stand united together by the commonality of our companies' core values, which respect and support employees with diverse backgrounds," the joint statement began. "We are committed to supporting our employees and our customers and to ensuring the health of our communities. Accordingly, we support the campaign to approve R-71."
The statement said overturning the law would undo years of equal rights progress made in Washington State. The businesses said they do not believe that this step backward would be in the best interest for "the future of our state."
"Vulcan Inc. certainly hopes it will be approved," David Postman, spokesman for Vulcan Inc., told SGN. "Washington residents believe in equal rights, and when voters understand that R-71 preserves the law as passed by the Legislature, we are confident they will vote to approve R-71."
Postman told SGN the domestic partnership bill was the culmination of years of work done by people who believe that all Washington residents, regardless of sexual orientation, should be able to create families.
"If R-71 is defeated," he said, "it would not just stop the progress, but set it back years, perhaps, and we should not ask anyone to wait for the respect and equal treatment under the law they deserve."
This is an important issue and must not get lost in the attention given to the Seattle mayor's race or other campaigns, he said.
According to Postman, Vulcan Inc. is donating $5,000 to the Approve Referendum 71 Campaign.
"Supporters of equal rights have to remember to vote to approve R-71 to maintain the law," Postman said.
Share on Facebook
Share on Delicious
Share on StumbleUpon!