by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, conducted April 4-15, finds that people say the economy and jobs will be very important to their vote. A majority of respondents, 86%, said the economy is 'very important' to them, leaving marriage equality at the bottom of the list. Iran and Afghanistan fared better. Gun control and foreign policy fared better.
On one hand, this could be looked at as a positive thing. Voters are not seeing marriage equality as a divisive issue. On the other hand, it shows indifference - and that could be dangerous for a marriage equality campaign.
What does this mean for the campaign in Washington state?
Rep. Jamie Pedersen, the openly Gay Washington state legislator responsible for introducing the marriage equality bill in the House, said that it is important to realize that the poll is a national snapshot, not a local one. 'For most of the country, marriage equality is not an issue that is on the ballot or on people's minds,' he told Seattle Gay News. 'So I don't think it is very surprising.'
Pedersen said that although national data can be important, he is more interested to 'see the data from our state.'
'I agree that jobs and the economy are the most important issues for voters,' he continued.
However, for the issue of marriage equality in Washington, he said, he is 'hopeful that most people will feel like the legislature has settled this issue and we ought to let same-sex couples get married and move on.'
Governor Chris Gregoire signed the state's marriage equality bill into law in February.
The statute is scheduled to take effect on June 6, but referendum proponents have until that day to collect the necessary 120,577 signatures to get the measure on the November ballot.
Josh Friedes, marriage equality director for Equal Rights Washington, said the Pew research data is more good news for the marriage equality movement. 'Social issues are no longer the wedge issue they were in 2004 or 2008,' he told SGN. 'Foes of marriage equality are having trouble exciting mainstream conservatives.'
'That social issues like marriage equality are not what will drive conservatives to the polls or to mail in their ballots is different from the question as to whether they will vote on marriage equality when the issue is on the ballot,' he said.
Friedes said history shows that there is 'very little drop-off on marriage ballot measures.'
'This means if people vote they don't leave the marriage question blank,' he said.
Echoing those sentiments, Pedersen told SGN, 'State ballot measures come near the top of the ballot - after the federal offices, but before the statewide offices.'
'I do not think there is a huge risk that people will just drop off before that,' he said. 'In fact, I suspect that we have a lot of highly motivated folks who will be voting if Referendum 74 is on the ballot and I hope that that helps friends of equality up and down the ballot.'
Friedes said that because marriage equality is 'no longer such a polarizing topic, that means that we can engage conservatives and the movable middle in a conversation about the importance of marriage equality and why it is good for all families.'
'We must be focused on reminding all people that marriage is about love, commitment, and mutual concern, and these are the values that same-sex couples who wish to legally marry share,' he said. 'And of course we know the best way to move voters is by sharing personal stories about our families and other families we know.'
The Pew data also suggests that we will need to work hard to make sure that all voters who support marriage equality mail in their ballots, he said.
'Again part of our job is to make sure that every voter who supports marriage equality knows we are counting on them to mail in their ballots and vote to Approve Referendum 74,' Friedes told SGN. 'This is why Washington United for Marriage's 'Pledge to Approve 74' campaign is so brilliant. It allows us to engage in conversations now about the importance of marriage equality and it allows us to identify supportive voters so we can remain in contact with them. Pledge to Approve 74 can be done online through the Washington United website and pledge cards can be obtained from the campaign. You can collect cards at your house of worship, local farmers market, or at any meeting or party you attend. And don't forget to spread the Pledge to Approve 74 campaign via Facebook.'
Washington United for Marriage is a broad statewide coalition of organizations, congregations, unions, and business associations working to keep civil marriage for Lesbian and Gay couples in Washington State in 2012.
SGN reached out to Zach Silk, campaign manager for Washington United for Marriage, but Silk failed to respond on the issue.
It is important to note that Referendum 74 has not yet been qualified for the ballot. However, opponents of marriage equality in Washington state are expected to get the number of signatures required.
'Marriage will, almost certainly, be on the Washington state ballot,' Friedes said. 'That reality will keep the issue on the front pages of newspapers, in blogs, and on TV news even if the issue is not front and center elsewhere.'
'We should expect a robust and constant debate about marriage equality in Washington state,' he concluded. 'We need to be present in this conversation at the personal and local level.'
Kris Hermanns, executive director for Pride Foundation, said the Pew Research national study highlights that Americans are concerned about a number of important issues, however, 'we also know that people are passionate about the issue of marriage equality.'
'With the passing of marriage equality legislation in Olympia, our elected officials made it clear that supporting loving and committed same-sex couples is a priority as it impacts the health, safety, and well-being of Washingtonians,' Hermanns told SGN. 'Pride Foundation, along with all our other partners on the Washington United for Marriage campaign, is working to raise the conversation about why marriage is important. Both straight and same-sex couples want to build a life with someone - to make a commitment to take care of and be responsible for one another.'
In addition, she said, 'Public support for allowing same-sex couples to marry has grown significantly over the past few years, with multiple national polls showing that a majority of Americans now support marriage equality. This growing support has followed years of important public and private conversations about marriage for same-sex couples. These conversations have helped people who may have been conflicted in the past become supportive of marriage for loving, committed couples.'
'As members of the LGBT community, as well as our straight allies, continue to have these conversations with family, friends, and colleagues, we will raise the issue of and grow support for marriage equality,' concluded Hermanns.
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