by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
One could argue that full marriage equality is priceless. And while that may be true in the emotional sense of the word, one could also argue that the price for same-sex couples to keep their right to marry in Washington state would start at a whopping $6 million - and we've only got eight months to raise it.
Freedom is an expensive bride, and according to Zach Silk, campaign manager for Washington United for Marriage - the coalition working to secure marriage equality in Washington state - our opponents 'have committed to spending $6 million dollars to roll back marriage equality.'
'We cannot let them overwhelm us financially, so our plan is to match them dollar for dollar,' he told Seattle Gay News when asked how much it will cost the LGBT and allied communities to win at the ballot box in November. 'That means we need everyone who supports marriage equality to give what they can now.'
Silk's message of urgency should not fall on deaf ears, said marriage equality director at Equal Rights Washington, Josh Friedes. 'Money matters,' Friedes told SGN. 'It takes money to get your message on the air, conduct research, and coordinate volunteers. Here is a simple reality, campaigns that don't raise enough money to build out their infrastructure fail.'
'Our side spent $40 million in California, but that money poured in late,' he said. 'Don't hold back - give generously now.'
When pressed for an exact amount, Friedes advised, 'There is never enough money to appropriately fund a marriage equality campaign.'
In other words, that $6 million could be just the tip of the iceberg. 'What I see the campaign doing very well is integrating the expertise of organizations and volunteers so that we can have a campaign whose footprint is far larger than its budget,' he said. 'This of course will take time so we need to be patient as the campaign grows so it can accommodate all the wonderful offers of support it hopes to utilize.'
And there have been offers. People are ready to get to work. It's been over a week since Washington Governor Chris Gregoire signed marriage equality into law, and the energy surrounding that historic moment is palpable.
But why $6 million? And why now? A good example, say officials, would be the legal battle Washington United for Marriage is already engaged in.
On February 17, the attorney general's office released its proposed ballot language for Referendum 74, the attempt to repeal the marriage equality bill in November.
'It's not good,' said Silk, who pointed out, 'The AG's language has some obvious flaws, including using the phrase 'redefines marriage,' which is nowhere in the marriage equality bill.'
The language that appears on the ballot measure is important because, as it appears now, it is inaccurate. The Washington State Legislature - as well as Gregoire - did not seek to redefine marriage. Instead, they simply wrote a law that would allow same-sex couples in committed and loving relationships the same right to civil marriage as straight couples.
It is important to note that the attorney general is Rob McKenna, a Republican running for governor in 2012, who has publicly stated he does not support marriage equality.
'The language comes straight out of our opponent's playbook,' said Silk. 'If you go to the National Organization for Marriage's (NOM) website, you'll find it right there, at the top of the list of talking points they compiled to defeat marriage equality.'
'It's clear NOM and opponents of equality are influencing this ballot process, and we must do everything we can to fight them,' said a defiant Silk. 'It is crucial that the ballot language is fair, balanced, and accurate, and not defined by the political influence of opponents of equality.'
Washington United for Marriage is challenging this language in court. Once they file a challenge, the judge has just five days to rule on the final language.
'We have a talented legal team working on this,' assured Silk. 'But we can't do this alone, and this process is moving quickly.'
In other words, if you were thinking about when would be a good time to donate, 'now' would be the answer.
To make a donation - of any amount - to Washington United for Marriage, visit the advocacy group's official website, www.washingtonunited.org.
The campaign for marriage equality is going to grow in size, strength, and energy in the coming months. As this happens, the Washington United for Marriage staff will become stretched thin. With that in mind, the campaign has put out a call for volunteers.
'Over the coming eight months, we will be talking to tens of thousands of voters telling stories of what marriage means to them,' Silk said. 'We will need people's help to make that happen; phoning, tabling, canvassing, and more.'
'We also have lots of opportunities to help us get the little things done like envelopes stuffed, thank-you cards sent, and events staffed,' he said. 'Anyone is welcome to volunteer. We have more things to do than we have people to do them.'
'We will be working over the coming months to build a grassroots movement that stretches from Seattle to Spokane, from the San Juan Islands in the west to Asotin County in the east,' Silk continued. 'We've had a talented field team of organizers on the ground since last November. We will be expanding that team to make sure that we can engage Seattle, Spokane, and everywhere in between.'
While social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter can be useful for disseminating information, there is no better way to show your support than to get physically involved.
In short, said Silk, 'we will run a full-scale mobilization campaign that includes canvassing, postcarding, tabling, phoning, targeted advertising, and presence at events big and small.'
Although marriage equality opponents have until June 6 to come up with the signatures needed to qualify Referendum 74 for the ballot, Silk said Washington United for Marriage is not about to sit back and wait. They are approaching this with the idea that our opponents will, in fact, get the correct amount of signatures - and then some.
'They say they are going to get them, and we are going to take them at their word,' he said.
With Referendum 74 on the ballot, Washingtonians will be asked in the November general election to approve (that is, keep) the marriage equality law, or reject it. That means everyone who is eligible to vote needs to do so if we are going to be the majority at the ballot box.
The first step is voter registration - a very important step, according to Silk. 'Whether we like it or not, this is going to be decided at the ballot box,' he warned. 'That means that we need every eligible voter who supports our cause to register to vote, get engaged in the election, and cast their ballot this fall. If you are not registered, you won't be able to vote for marriage equality.'
To register to vote in Washington state, visit the Washington Secretary of State Elections and Voting website (http://wei.secstate.wa.gov/osos/en/voterinformation/Pages/RegistertoVote.aspx) or myvote.wa.gov. The site contains instruction in a variety of languages (from Chinese to Russian) and includes voter eligibility information as well as dates and deadlines.
SAY 'I DO' TO MARRIAGE EQUALITY
You support marriage equality. You volunteer your free time to help secure marriage equality. But you still might ask yourself (as many others do), 'Can we win?' After all, historically, every time marriage equality has been put to a popular vote - over 30 times, as a matter of fact - we have lost. Why is this time different? Because we aren't going to assume victory, said Friedes, we are going to work at it.
'Only a fool will promise that we will keep the marriage equality law from being repealed,' Friedes told SGN when asked if our victory was inevitable. 'It takes skill, hard work, lots of money, and, yes, even a little luck to win a campaign when the electorate is fairly evenly divided as it is with the marriage issue in Washington state.'
Friedes' experience is a huge resource in this fight. He's spent a vast amount of time and energy working toward marriage equality in and out of the Evergreen State.
'I've had the pleasure to play a role in securing marriage equality in Massachusetts and a much smaller role in securing civil unions in Hawaii,' he said.
Ultimately, Friedes says, this fight can only be won by enlisting the help of the community - and beyond.
'ERW continues to urge people to take personal responsibility for protecting the marriage equality law and this means making the most of birthdays, anniversaries, Easter dinner, Passover Seders, and other gatherings of family and friends,' he said. 'Don't discount the importance of posting frequently about marriage equality on your Facebook page. Invite a speaker from Washington United for Marriage or Equal Rights Washington to speak at your house of worship or civic group. Suggest to your volleyball team, softball team, or book club that they spend an evening phone banking with Washington United for Marriage. And put a bumper sticker on your car and laptop.'
Anyone who knows Friedes will tell you that he advises everyone he meets to do one thing: tell their story. It's his mantra, and it has worked. There now exists evidence - most recently with Gov. Gregoire - that everyone from elected politicians to members of your own family are more susceptive to changing their mind about marriage equality when they hear the personal story of a loved one. Gregoire publicly acknowledged that she began to come around when her daughters began to engage her in conversation surrounding the topic. Friedes was present during the governor's speech before she signed the bill, when she relayed the personal stories that LGBT constituents had told her.
'Three often unseen aspects of the work ERW does include our work with the media to put a human face on the issue throughout the state,' he told SGN. 'Working with local partners, we have filled hundreds of requests from TV, radio, and newspapers to find couples willing to share their stories with reporters. ERW identifies people to testify at legislative hearings, and lastly ERW meets with executives and boards to encourage them to support marriage equality. The ERW PAC has spent well over $100,000 electing marriage equality candidates. Since 2006 ERW has sent over 3,000,000 emails to our advocates and like our public forums, Facebook page, and phone banks, the core message has been to share your stories with your social networks about why marriage matters.'
'Nothing give us more joy than working in coalition and engaging others in LGBT civil rights work, and the ultimate expression of this is the leadership role ERW played in the formation of Washington United for Marriage, and we are delighted to now play a leadership role in the campaign itself.'
We're motivated. Now what? Now, Washington United for Marriage Campaign Manager Zach Silk said, 'We protect what we've gained.'
'We need to prevent our opponents from rolling back marriage equality at the ballot box this fall,' he said. 'Our opponents are organized, well-funded, and determined. As you know, they have filed a referendum and an initiative to end marriage equality and take backwards.'
'We are not going to let this happen,' Silk assured. 'The first thing we need to do is activate a grassroots movement. We need to match them name for name, dollar for dollar, and show them that we are strong, united, and ready to defend our rights.'
Our opponents are committed to their fight and say they have two tools in which to use in defeating marriage equality: a referendum and an initiative.
'We need to take them both seriously,' warned Silk. 'It is more difficult to qualify an initiative for the ballot, but we don't doubt their ability to get both on the ballot. We will be watching them closely. It doesn't change what we have to do, though, which is build a grassroots movement and tell voters across the state our stories of love, commitment, and family.'
Friedes says that, as a member of the coalition to secure and protect marriage equality in our state, he has confidence in the campaign.
'Washington United for Marriage has the key ingredients to be a very successful campaign,' he told SGN. 'We started early. We didn't wait until Referendum 74 qualified for the ballot - LGBT and allied organizations came together to work as a campaign in 2011 to both pass the marriage equality bill and be prepared to win a referendum.'
Both early planning and the willingness of diverse stakeholders to work together from the start are key indicators of future success.
'Washington United for Marriage also understands the importance of engaging diverse constituencies in our work from unions to business to the choice community to seniors and youth,' continued Friedes. 'The campaign has demonstrated a keen understanding of the leadership role faith communities will play in preserving marriage equality in Washington state. Clergy and people of faith have always been well-represented in the work of Washington United, from the kickoff press conference to the clergy from diverse faith traditions who testified in support of the marriage bill to the Faith Leaders Statement the campaign is currently asking clergy and congregations to sign, Washington United for Marriage knows that faith will be an important voice in its work.'
In addition, Friedes said the campaign has developed a large coordinating committee that includes representation from all across the state.
'What we see is Washington United for Marriage adopting two key learnings,' he said. 'First, we cannot wait to run a traditional campaign in August or September. The campaign has already begun and in addition to fundraising and coalition building, will encourage people to tell their stories about why marriage matters.'
'In essence,' he said, 'we need to lobby voters just as we lobbied legislators and we know that we do this by sharing our stories about why marriage matters.'
'The second thing I really appreciate about the Washington United for Marriage campaign is that it is very data-driven,' praised Friedes. 'We all have our opinions about what works and what messages are best. The campaign is committed to testing assumptions and messages and this can really help avoid problems that have developed in previous campaigns.'
'Campaigns are both an art and a science, and Washington United for Marriage's senior staff understand this,' he said.
Now is the moment. This is it. The big fight. While November might seem like a long way away, as the countdown to the general election begins, the nation will be watching. Will we be the first state to win marriage equality rights by popular vote? Washington United for Marriage says we've got a fighting chance. Don't sit this one out.
Donate. Volunteer. Educate. Vote.
Seattle Gay News is committed to winning this fight. Continue to read SGN for updates directly from the campaign, community activists, and community leaders who wish to tell their story, educate our readers, and achieve victory at the ballot box. If you have a story to tell or want to tell us how you or your group, business, or club are helping to secure marriage equality, email SGN Associate Editor Shaun Knittel at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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