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Religious Tolerance logo

Domestic partnerships in Washington State

2009-NOV: Referendum 71

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Referendum 71:

The state legislature passed Senate Bill 5688 early in 2009. It gave registered domestic partners in the state all of the "...rights, responsibilities, and obligations granted by or imposed by state law on married couples."

Two conservative religious groups, Washington Values Alliance (WAVA), 1 and the Faith and Freedom Network 2 have as one of their goals the depriving of equal rights and privileges for loving, committed same-sex couples and their children. The groups initiated a signature drive to place Referendum 71 on the ballot at election day 2009-NOV-03. Their goal was to repeal 5688. A total of 121,847 valid signatures were initially collected. Since this is in excess of the 120,577 required, the referendum was added to the ballot. By the 2009-JUL-25 deadline, they had collected 137,881 signatures -- many more than needed. planed to publish the names of all the petition signatories. Many commentators interpret this as an attempt at intimidation. However, the website states:

"We believe the process for initiative and referendum petitions that maintain discrimination by opposing equal rights and protections for Washington State residents must meet a high standard of transparency to ensure a fair and open discussion in the public forum. 3 

Washington Families Standing Together and Equal Rights Washington were the main groups supporting both Bill 5688 and approval of Referendum 71. Also in support were a number of corporations, including Boeing, Microsoft, Nike, as well as the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce, Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle, the Seattle City Council, the Washington State Bar Association and the Washington Association of Churches.

The voters were presented with the following ballot:

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 __ 4

If the majority of voters had voted for rejection, then Senate Bill 5688 would have been null and void.

Prediction of the referendum results:

If we assume that:

bulletVoters in favor of same-sex marriage and voters in favor of same-sex couples having access to domestic partnerships with full rights will vote for Referendum 71 in the same proportion as was found in the Washington Poll for 2008, and
bulletVoters in favor of only partial domestic partnerships or of no recognition of same-sex relationships at all will vote against Referendum 71 in the same proportion as the poll found, and
bulletVoters who had no opinion in the poll will not vote in the referendum, and
bulletPublic opinion will remain stable between 2008-OCT and election day, 2009-NOV-03, then:

The referendum would pass with a vote of about 67% in favor to 33% in opposed -- a ratio of 2 to 1.

The Washington Poll had conducted a series of polls that have asked voters directly what they think of domestic partnerships. It is of particular interest because it shows a trend in voter's opinions: three polls were taken over a two year period:

Poll date In favor Opposed Undecided
2006 58% 26% 16%
2007 59% 22% 19%
2008 66% 21% 14%

There has been a steady increase in the percentage of supporters of domestic partnerships, and a steady decline in the number of those opposed. The results of the Washington Poll match national polls on civil unions and domestic partnerships fairly closely .

Greenberg Quinlan Rosner (GQR) conducted a poll on behalf of Approve 71, another group that favored approval of Referendum 71. The pollsters asked the whether the voter was planning to vote yes or no in November. Results still show majority support for  domestic partnerships, but the numbers are at considerable variance from the Washington Poll results above:

Poll date In favor Opposed Undecided
2009-SEP 51% 44% 4%

In particular, the percentage opposed is more than double -- and the undecided were a less than one-third -- of the values of the Washington Poll results.

About advertising:

Extensive fear and disinformation-based advertising can always sway the results significantly, as happened in California over Proposition 8.

The most effective advertising technique by those opposed to enhanced rights for same-sex couples might be to portray the referendum as having nothing to do with domestic partnerships. They could try to convince voters that it is a simple vote for or against same-sex marriage. This seems to be the path that those opposed to SB 5688 have taken:

bulletA new political action committee (PAC) was organized to collect the signatures leading to Referendum 71. They decided to call themselves "Protect Marriage Washington," even though the referendum is about domestic partnerships and unrelated to marriage. Their yard sign states:

"Preserve Marriage,
Protect Children
On Referendum-71 REJECT SB-5688
Marriage = One Man, One Woman."

The term "domestic partnership" does not appear on the sign.

Similarly, their doorbell flier contains 25 references to marriage and only four references to domestic partnerships. The casual viewer would assume that Referendum 71 is a plebiscite for or against same-sex marriage. It is worthwhile noting that passage of 71 would result in more protection for the children in families led by same-sex parents, not less as implied by the PAC.

bullet During 2009-MAR the Washington Values Alliance (WAVA) posted disinformation videos on YouTube implying that the Senate bill SB 5688 would redefine marriage to include homosexual relationships. In reality the Senate bill is totally unrelated to marriage. The bill would merely enhance the rights of the approximately 5,700 registered domestic partners in the state. Same-sex couples would still be prohibited from marrying as they had been in the past. Also, they would still be denied the approximately 1,140 federal benefits and rights that married couples receive.
bullet In mid-2009, the Knights of Columbus -- a Roman Catholic organization for men -- endorsed the referendum, and also linked it to same-sex marriage. They suggested that if the referendum fails, the Washington State Supreme Court was poised to reverse its 2006 ruling and legalize same-sex marriage in the state. 5 This appears to be pure speculation on their part. Courts really do not operate in this way; they can only rule on cases brought before them. As of 2011-NOV, their warnings have not materialized.

If the groups opposed to equal rights for same-sex couples had been able to delude the public into believing that the referendum is actually about same-sex marriage (SSM), then voters who favor full domestic partnerships but oppose SSM might be persuaded to vote "Rejected" on the referendum and cancel full domestic partnerships in the state. It was unclear as election day in 2009 approached whether the voters of Washington State are that easily duped.

The groups opposed to full domestic partnerships were taking a major risk with this campaign approach. If the public realizes that they are being lied to and that the real issue relates to domestic partnership and not same-sex marriage, there might be a backlash. The result could be a major loss of credibility by the "Reject 71" campaign.

If most of the voters selected "Approved" on the ballot, SB-5699 would be sustained in Washington, the movement to maintain LGBT inequality in the U.S. would suffer a major defeat.

Election night results:

Polls closed at 8 PM local time (11 PM ET). R-71 was approved, with massive support in major urban counties in the Northwest of the state and massive opposition in rural counties in the rest of the state.

  • Tentative results reported on the next day were: approved 509,673 (51.1%); rejected 487,808 (48.9%) 8

  • The final results were: approved 951,822 (53.15); rejected 838,842 (46.85%). 10

The vote was certified. Loving, committed same-sex couples were still be unable to marry. However, if registered as domestic partners, they would receive all of the state rights and privileges given to married couples. The larger prize -- over 1,100 federal benefits -- remains currently out of reach due to the federal DOMA law.

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. The home page of the Washington Values Alliance is at:
  2. The home page of the Faith & Freedom Network is at:
  3. The home page of is, appropriately, at:
  4. "Washington Referendum 71 (2009),, as at 2009-SEP-25, at:
  5. "Knights of Columbus endorse Ref. 71," Protect Marriage Washington, undated, at:
  6. "Yard Sign," Protect Marriage Washington, at:
  7. "Doorbell flier," Protect Marriage Washington, at:
  8. "Elections: November 3,2009," Washington Secretary of State, 2009-NOV-04, at:
  9. "Washington Domestic Partners Rights and Responsibilities, Referendum 71 (2009)," Ballotpedia, as on 2011-OCT-25, at:
  10. "November 03, 2009 General Election Results," Washington Secretary of State, 2009-NOV-24, at:

Copyright © 2009 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Original posting: 2009-JUL-29
Latest update: 2011-NOV-13
Author: B.A. Robinson

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