by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Staff Writer
The campaign to approve Ref. 71, which aims at keeping Washington State's domestic partnership law, has ramped up over the past two weeks. Washington Families Standing Together (WAFST), the Gay advocacy group leading the charge, has enlisted the help of hundreds of volunteers who seek equality for all Washington 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 it, meaning they do not wish to see domestic partners in Washington receive all the rights, responsibilities, and obligations granted by or imposed by state law on married couples.
"We are delighted by the interest coming out of volunteers," said Josh Friedes, WAFST campaign manager. "Our phone banking efforts have really improved, with hundreds of people signing up to make calls."
Additionally, he said, union groups are calling their phone lists, as are many other groups - such as the Jewish Federation, one of the 186 organizations that have endorsed the campaign since May.
Friedes said the bottom line is, through a WAFST estimation, "We are at 51% approve and 44% reject. That is a razor-thin margin that we need to be very, very disturbed about. We need our base to vote."
He said WAFST came to 51% by conducting a poll of "likely" voters in a 2009 off-year election. "We have a base that can really grow if we can get the people who are planning not to vote, to vote," Friedes said. "If we can do that, we'll be in better shape. There are other polls that show us in much better shape, but those polls are of voters in general, not 'likely' voters."
According to voting statistics gathered during off-year elections, the people who tend to not vote are urban, younger, and more progressive voters. WAFST said there aren't many undecided voters on the issue of Ref. 71.
"We don't know when the opposition is going to air T.V. campaign adds," Friedes told SGN. "Still, we aren't going to allow any window of opportunity for our opponents to be on air, and we are not."
Friedes likened this phase of the campaign to a chessboard, where "part of winning is your strategy, and then responding to theirs."
Addressing the concern over confusion to approve or reject, Friedes said, "We have to make sure everyone knows they need to approve. We need to just get out there and talk approve, approve, approve, so Washington families keep their same-sex domestic partnership law."
"It's very important that we be very clear: failure to approve the referendum will take rights away," he said. "This law provides unbelievably important rights and protections to our families. Families will suffer real harm if they lose the protections they need."
WAFST is asking people to send suggestions for viral videos (catchy web videos on YouTube) that they would like to produce. The campaign will work with them, providing advice and approval on how to make the video effective. If you have an idea for an Approve Referendum 71 Campaign video, you can e-mail the campaign directly at email@example.com.
FOR A NOBLE CAUSE
Lurleen, a Lesbian blogger for www.pamshouseblend.com, recently spent time at a WAFST phone bank and told SGN the campaign has a diverse and dedicated team of volunteers who are doing all they can to see that Ref. 71 is approved this November.
The Equal Rights Washington (ERW) and WAFST volunteer told SGN, "I think that my family, like every other family in Washington State, needs to be protected to the full extent of the law. We will be losing some important rights and protections if the referendum isn't approved."
She said that, to her, one of the most important provisions of the extended same-sex domestic partnership law is granting a partner the right to sick leave. If someone in a same-sex relationship is ill and needs to be taken care of, their partner can do so. Additionally, she says, the current tax structure - taxing registered domestic partners as if they are single - is unfair. The approval of Senate Bill 5688 changed all that. When Gov. Chris Gregoire signed the bill into law, it granted said sick leave and tax breaks.
On the night of September 21, according to Lurleen, 20 volunteers met at the WAFST Seattle campaign headquarters to phone bank for the Approve Referendum 71 Campaign.
It was many of the volunteers' first time participating in phone banking, but most found the experience to be interesting. As one volunteer put it, "I got great satisfaction out of providing voters with needed information."
A straight ally told Lurleen she was volunteering because she believes that "It is wrong to put civil rights up for a vote, and it's wrong to subjugate a minority population based on religious views."
Another volunteer, Yessica, an international student who cannot vote, told Lurleen she is volunteering "Because everyone should have equal rights," while another, Drew, said he was inspired by his Gay brother, who worked on the No on Prop 8 campaign in California. He said he was angry when he saw a group of WAFST outreach volunteers met with silence by Gay colleagues. That, mixed with the recent bombing of a Gay youth center in Tel Aviv, Israel, motivated him to volunteer. He said he was "not going to be a lazy Gay."
"With ballots hitting mailboxes in just three weeks, there has never been a more important time to identify and mobilize our voters," Lurleen said.
"Our fundraising has picked up, but we need more," Friedes said. "Plus, we are dealing with a large donor ban of October 12, so we need to have all of the large donations physically in our hand by that date."
"We have raised well over $500,000," he said, "The money is coming in, but we still need to raise a lot more to pay for costly ad campaigns."
Friedes said the hard reality is that TV ads and mail pieces are very expensive.
"Simply put, we need a million dollars in the next month in order to execute our outreach plan," he said. "I know that sounds like a lot, but we will get there with the support of hundreds of people in the community who have stepped up to help."
In a September 23 e-mail sent to Approve Referendum 71 Campaign members and its supporters, the campaign said, "We only have 23 more days before ballots are mailed out to voters across the state. Can you make a contribution today? Every bit helps."
Local and national organizations heeded the call to fill the campaign's coffers this week.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) announced September 24, that it has contributed $32,000 to the Approve Referendum 71 Campaign. In addition, the ACLU of Washington office and the national ACLU LGBT Project are making significant staff contributions to the campaign.
"Families need legal protections for their relationships, especially in these difficult economic times. Approving R-71 will ensure that all families in Washington are treated fairly under the law," said Kathleen Taylor, executive director of the ACLU of Washington.
The ACLU is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization devoted to defending the principles of the Bill of Rights and extending them to individuals and groups that historically have been denied equal treatment under law. The ACLU of Washington is the state affiliate of the ACLU and has more than 25,000 members throughout Washington State.
To make a donation to the Approve Referendum 71 Campaign or for more information about WAFST, visit them online at www.approvereferendum71.org.
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