by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
Opponents of same-sex marriage on Wednesday submitted more than 240,000 signatures, about twice as many as needed, to qualify Referendum 74 for the ballot in November.
Protect Marriage Washington had until Wednesday to gather at least 120,577 signatures to force a public vote on Washington's marriage equality law, passed earlier this year by the state legislature and signed into law by Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire.
The legislation was to have taken effect June 7, but now remains on hold until the election.
The state Elections Division will test the validity of the signatures. According to David Ammons, a spokesman for the Secretary of State's office, R-74 could be officially certified for the November ballot by the middle of next week.
'By all reasonable expectations, it will be on the ballot,' he said.
Even before the marriage bill was signed in February, political observers had expected it to be challenged at the ballot box in November.
'For us, there's no news here,' said Zach Silk, campaign manager for Washington United for Marriage, the coalition of organizations, church congregations, unions, and business associations working together to secure civil marriage for loving, committed Gay and Lesbian couples. 'We always knew our opponents would qualify for the ballot, and we know they paid hired canvassers to boost their count. They can spin it however they want, but they clearly wouldn't have paid out-of-pocket if they thought they could do it on their own.'
According to Silk, whatever the ?nal certi?ed number is, it doesn't matter.
'This campaign is up and running and we know by independent poll numbers released last week that the overwhelming majority of Washingtonians do not want to overturn this law of fundamental fairness for all families,' he continued. 'That's why we'll continue to build on the broad and diverse campaign we've created.'
Washington United for Marriage is energized by the families who know that only marriage fully protects their children, by the parents who want all of their children to be able to marry the person they love, and by loving Gay and Lesbian couples who simply want to make that lifetime commitment to one another, said Silk.
'Those are the values of the vast majority of people in this state, and that's why we believe we'll ultimately win in November.'
Marc Solomon, national campaign director of Freedom to Marry said, 'During the week in which loving and committed same-sex couples in Washington were preparing to share in the joy of the first marriage ceremonies in the state, anti-Gay advocates have decided instead to submit signatures forcing them to put a hold on their happiness and fend off a referendum on whether or not they can get married.'
Washington is part of Freedom to Marry's Win More States Fund, which plans to raise and spend at least $3 million in crucial marriage campaigns in 2012. These funds contribute to grassroots organizing, television and radio spots, new media programs, and public education.
'We know that Washingtonians believe in freedom and fairness, and a majority want to see all people share in the joy and responsibilities of marriage,' said Solomon.
As an active partner in Washington United for Marriage, Freedom to Marry will work tirelessly to ensure that voters hear the stories, and learn about the lives of, loving and committed same-sex couples from Washington, he said.
'We are confident Washington voters will conclude that a vote to take away their freedom to marry is out of sync with the Golden Rule values that all Washingtonians hold.'
But the outcome is far from certain, even in a state as politically liberal and Democratic-leaning as Washington. In every state where the question of same-sex marriage has been put directly to voters so far, it has been rejected.
The Washington, D.C.-based National Organization for Marriage, which has successfully campaigned against marriage equality in other states, has joined the repeal push in Washington state.
Joseph Backholm, chairman of Preserve Marriage Washington, said in a statement that the response to his group's petition drive was 'incredible throughout every corner of the state.'
'Support for [qualifying] Referendum 74 was strong from the beginning, and has grown as the signature drive has advanced,' he said.
'Thirty-two states have voted on this issue. No states have voted to redefine marriage. People think this country is divided down the middle on this issue, and that's simply not true,' Christopher Plante, spokesman for Preserve Marriage Washington, told the Los Angeles Times.
'The fact of the matter is, if you look at what Americans have done, from the deepest blue states like Maine, California, and Wisconsin to the Bible Belt, when they've had a chance to define marriage as one-man, one-woman, that's what they've done.'
The fight to keep Washington State's marriage equality law is expected to be a multimillion-dollar campaign. Marriage equality supporters appear to have a big money advantage so far. Washington United for Marriage has raised over $700,000, according to the website for the state Public Disclosure Commission. Opponents of marriage equality have raised just $113,000.
Washingtonians who support marriage equality will have to vote Yes to Approve Referendum 74 in order to keep the law.
Washington is likely to join three other states with a same-sex marriage question on the ballot in this presidential election year, with the opposition in each of those states backed by the National Organization for Marriage.
In Maryland, opponents of same-sex marriage have turned in more than enough signatures to allow voters to decide whether to retain or reject marriage equality legislation passed by lawmakers there.
In Maine, Gay-rights advocates are asking the same voters who repealed a same-sex marriage law in that state in 2009 to restore it.
And in Minnesota, voters will consider whether to amend their state's constitution to ban same-sex marriage.
Same-sex marriage is legal in New York, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Washington, D.C.
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