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Religious Tolerance logo

Same-sex marriage (SSM) & domestic partnerships

Washington state: 2009 referendum
to repeal domestic partnership law

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Draft version, currently being edited

Review: Domestic partnerships in Washington state:

bullet2007: A system of domestic partnerships was created; same-sex couples were able to register and receive a few of the hundreds of state rights enjoyed by all married opposite-sex couples. Unmarried heterosexual couples where one spouse is 62 years-of-age or older could also register.
bullet2008: The Legislature gave additional rights and responsibilities to domestic partners.
bullet2009-MAY. Senate Bill SB 5688 was signed into law. 1 It was commonly referred to as the "everything but marriage" bill. It specified that:
"... for all purposes under state law, state registered domestic partners shall be treated the same as married spouses. ... The provisions of this act shall be liberally construed to achieve equal treatment, to the extent not in conflict with federal law, of state registered domestic partners and married spouses. 2

According to the final bill report prepared by "non-partisan legislative staff:"

"The legislation amended statutes related to dissolutions; community property; estate planning; taxes; court process; service to indigent veterans and other public assistance; conflicts of interest for public officials; and guardianships." 2

Registered domestic partners are still denied all of the approximately 1,150 rights and privileges that are automatically granted by the federal government to opposite-sex married couples. They are still unable to marry in Washington state. However, if the law were implemented, they will enjoy the same state rights and responsibilities as married couples receive, with the exception of one of the most important rights: to be able to marry the person that they love and to whom they are committed. 2

Referendum 71 launched:

Many religious and social conservatives were distressed at SB 5688 bill. Although it does not allow same-sex couples to marry, it would give them all of the state benefits and obligations equivalent to marriage.

A campaign coalition called Protect Marriage Washington was organized to repeal the bill via a voter referendum. This would prevent loving, committed domestic partners from receiving dozens of additional rights and privileges as specified by the bill.

In addition to the Roman Catholic group Knights of Columbus, approximately 20 fundamentalist and other evangelical Christian pastors and groups have endorsed the referendum, along with eight state legislators and community leaders, and two extreme conservative political parties: the American Heritage Party of Washington and the Constitution Party of Washington State.

No mainline or liberal Christian groups or leaders have endorsed the referendum. The list of endorsers also does not appear to include Jewish or Muslim groups or individuals. There are also no endorsements from representatives of other religions. It is essentially a battle between conservative Christians against gay positive and civil liberty groups and individuals.

The Washington Values Alliance (WAVA) prepared a petition and collected signatures. In order to have the referendum added to the 2009-NOV-03 statewide ballot, a minimum of 120,577 voter signatures was required. Because there are inevitably some invalid and duplicated signatures, the Washington Secretary of State recommends that sponsors collect at least 150,000 signatures.

On 2009-JUL-25, with two hours to spare, the sponsors turned in what they estimated to be at least 138,000 signatures. Filing these signatures automatically suspended the implementation of Senate Bill 5688 that had been scheduled to take effect on AUG-02. The law will be placed on hold while a complete signature check is performed. If 120,577 or more valid signatures are found, the referendum will be placed on the November ballot. If insufficient signatures were collected, the Senate Bill will be activated. The signature verification process could take a week or more. 3

On 2009-JUL-31, the Secretary of State's office reported that 137,689 signatures had actually been submitted; this is about 14% more than the absolute minimum necessary. The office had scrutinized 5,646 signatures to that date, and found an error rate of 11.34%. If this rate continues, the referendum will be authorized.

Also on JUL-31, organizers of Referendum 71 obtained a court order blocking the release of the names on the petitions. 4

Knights of Columbus endorse Referendum 71:

Council 1379 of the Knights of Columbus -- a Roman Catholic spiritual group for men -- endorsed the referendum.

Their resolution states:

"Whereas, The Catechism of the Catholic Church (2357) states, that 'homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered,' and 'contrary to the natural law.' 'Under no circumstances can they be approved.'

Whereas, recognizing its many social benefits, society has long licensed marriage between husband and wife, and has granted such unions privileges and prerogatives.

Whereas, in passing SB 5688 last month, the legislature in Olympia states repeatedly that 'marriage shall apply equally to state registered domestic partnerships.' The legislature would thus put the sin against nature on an equal footing legally with the venerable and sacred institution of marriage between one man and one woman.

Whereas, in Anderson, et. al. v. State of Washington (2006) the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was upheld by a 5-4 margin in the Washington State Supreme Court.

Whereas, three members of that majority are expected to defect after final enactment of SB 5688. Under this widely expected sequence of events, the State Supreme Court would soon overturn DOMA, and would mandate the issuing of marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Whereas, the Knights of Columbus nationally and locally are duty bound to defend traditional marriage in American society and culture,

Therefore, be it resolved: Council 1379 of the Knights of Columbus endorses Referendum 71, filed in Olympia on May 4, 2009, in order to overturn SB 5688." 5

There are two interesting aspects to this resolution:

bulletTheir citation of section 2357 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church appears to indicate that the Knights reject the concept of separation of
church and state and favor the state adopting Roman Catholic beliefs.
bulletThey speculate that if SB 5688 is implemented, three judges of the Washington State Supreme Court would reverse their stance on the constitutionality of the state's Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). This would imply that the 5 to 4 ruling of the court in favor of constitutionality during 2006 would become a 7 to 2 ruling against constitutionality if a similar court case were to be presented to them.

This seems like an unlikely scenario. In 2006, they ruled that the legislature had the authority to discriminate against same-sex couples in the marriage law. Since bill SB 5688 continues this discrimination, there is no obvious reason for the court to reverse its ruling. We have asked the Knights of Columbus to clarify their assertion.

Appearance of Referendum 71 on the ballot:

If approved, the ballot text would be:

Ballot Title
Statement of Subject: The legislature passed Engrossed Second Substitute Senate Bill 5688 concerning rights and responsibilities of state-registered domestic partners [and voters have filed a sufficient referendum petition on this bill].

Concise Description: This bill would expand the rights, responsibilities, and obligations accorded state-registered same-sex and senior domestic partners to be equivalent to those of married spouses, except that a domestic partnership is not a marriage.

Should this bill be:

Approved ___
Rejected ___

Ballot Measure Summary
Same-sex couples, or any couple that includes one person age sixty-two 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. 6

Support for same-sex marriage and full domestic partnerships:


References used in this essay:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Text of "Substitute Senate Bill 5688," SB 5688 - 2009-10: Expanding the rights and responsibilities of state registered domestic partners." Washington State Legislature, at: http://apps.leg.wa.gov/
  2. "Final Bill Report: E2SSB 5688," at: http://apps.leg.wa.gov/
  3. David Ammons, "R-71 backers bring in signature petitions," Washington Secretary of State, 2009-JUL-25, at: http://blogs.secstate.wa.gov/
  4. "Judge Blocks Release of Referendum 71 Signees," The Chronicle, 2009-JUL-31, at: http://www.chronline.com/
  5. "Knights of Columbus endorse Ref. 71," Protect Marriage Washington, undated, at: http://protectmarriagewa.com/
  6. "Proposed Referendum Measures - 2009," Washington Secretary of State, at: http://www.secstate.wa.gov/

Copyright © 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Original posting: 2009-JUL-29
Latest update: 2009-AUG-02
Author: B.A. Robinson

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