by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
The Washington Secretary of State's office announced Tuesday that Referendum 74 has passed the signature-verification process, qualifying the anti-Gay measure for the ballot.
Referendum 74 seeks to overturn the state's new law allowing same-sex marriage, which was passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Chris Gregoire in February. The law was supposed to take effect June 6, but was put on hold when the opponents of marriage equality turned in 247,331 signatures - twice the number needed. During the verification process, a 3% random sample was taken and of the 7,561 signatures checked, 6,877 were accepted.
The fact is the bigots are back. They may have been down when, in 2009, Washington voters approved Referendum 71 to expand the state's domestic partnership law, but they are certainly not out. Those of us involved in the R-71 fight waited and wondered if out-of-state groups would fill our opponents' bank accounts. That never happened. The truth is they were internally divided and couldn't get their act together in time to beat us.
But this time it's going to be different. The stakes are higher on both sides, as 'everything but marriage' is now a thing of the past and marriage equality is ours - if we can defend it. The 'one-man-and-one-woman' conservatives have brought the fight to us and have the firm backing of national groups with deep pockets, including the Washington, D.C.-based National Organization for Marriage (NOM), which has vowed to fight aggressively to strike down our law. And if you don't think that matters, you need to wake up now.
Get Over the Past
Let's talk about numbers. There's been an awful lot of talk about them lately.
First, the number of signatures our opponents needed to qualify for the ballot was not just met, but doubled. That should be a sign to us that they - the people fighting to take our rights away from us - are galvanized. What does it matter if they used paid signature-gatherers to get some of them? The point is they got them. Old news. Complaining that our opponents didn't play fair (even though there is no law against what they did) because they bought signatures will not equal a win for us in November. The fact that roughly 700 of the signatures they gathered were invalid doesn't matter either. I was pleased when Washington United for Marriage, the campaign running the Approve Referendum 74 campaign (www.washingtonunitedformarriage.org) told their supporters essentially to get over it and move on, because we've got a referendum to approve. Zach Silk, campaign manager for Washington United, said all along that our opponents would meet their quota, and last week they did - in a big way. The only thing that matters now, to those of us who believe in equality and justice for all Washington state citizens, is that we Approve Referendum 74 in November. Period.
The Six Million Dollar Question
Silk recently talked about another important number: 6 million. That's the number of dollars the campaign to Approve Referendum 74 will potentially need to raise to stop the bigots from rolling back our marriage equality law.
Think about that for a second. Let it sink in.
Then ask yourself, 'Have I donated as much as I can to this campaign?' The answer is probably no, because the campaign has not yet raised its first million. While it's true, according to public records, that we've managed to raise more money than our opponents so far, the fact remains that money fueled by hate - big money, not pocket change and dollar bills - will start pouring in when national anti-Gay groups start writing checks. In order to win this thing, we've got to fund the campaign to Approve Referendum 74. It's as simple as that. Washington United for Marriage doesn't have to outspend our opponents - it just has to match them. Early money counts. Everyone who said they were 'waiting to see what happens with the signatures' need wait no longer - the time to donate is now.
SGN publisher George Bakan and members of the campaign to Approve Referendum 74 have developed a great way for everyone to donate, at the very least, $1,000 to Washington United for Marriage. They are asking people to take the '1,000 at $1,000' pledge. In other words, if 1,000 people each raise $1,000, the campaign gets $1 million, collectively. You can raise this money any number of ways. Hold a cocktail party at your house that doubles as a fundraiser; ask 10 friends to each donate $100, or 20 friends to cough up just $50. My approach is to take a page right out of our opponents' playbook. If their hate money can rain in from out of state, why can't our love money do the same? The answer is it can. And it does - if you ask.
I have a sister who lives out of state. I called her and asked if she would like to attend the wedding of my partner, Yee-Shin Huang, and I. She, of course, said yes. I then explained to her that it won't be possible if we let the opponents of marriage equality win, and ultimately I asked her to make a donation on my behalf. She agreed. The check is in the mail.
The moral of this story? It's not a question of whether or not the people who love and respect you will support you. The question is, have you asked them to? My sister can't vote on our behalf in November, but her donation can help sway the most high-profile referendum fight LGBT Washingtonians have ever seen.
The Problem With Polls
There is one more number I would like to call attention to: 54. A recent poll by Seattle consulting firm Strategies 360 found that 54% of likely voters in the state think it should be legal for same-sex couples to marry. When news of this poll spread, it seemed as if we'd already won the election. I can't tell you how many people I talked to over the weekend at various LGBT community events who repeated '54' over and over when talking about the Approve Referendum 74 campaign.
Do you know what the problem is with polls like this one? The poll didn't specifically ask respondents how they would vote on the referendum. We've seen this before. In 2008, when California voters were faced with Proposition 8, the ballot initiative that took same-sex marriage away from Californians, several pre-election polls showed our side winning. Well, nearly four years and several major court decisions later, marriage equality still has not returned to California. It is important that we don't use this poll as a sign of certain victory, one that surely will not be ours, unless we fight for it with everything we've got. The number 54 means nothing to me. The only number that any of us should be worried about is the number 74. Our mantra must be 'Approve Referendum 74' - and nothing else.
Avoid Voter Confusion
The confusion that inevitably works its way into a ballot referendum is real. There exists now, and will continue to exist, a number of our supporters who are confused which way they need to vote come November. For this reason alone it is paramount that we drop the chatter about everything else and stick to one simple message, 'Approve Referendum 74.' Because if we don't, we are going to see an awful lot of people who excitedly open their ballot to vote in the presidential election, but when they get to R-74 they will be confused about which box to check, and will accidentally vote against us.
These voters could include the immigrant parent whose Gay or Lesbian son or daughter didn't take the time to explain the referendum in their native language; the LGBT 18-year-old who is voting for the first time in their life but didn't have mentors to educate them on our state's referendum process; or the straight ally who sort-of-listened to you that one time you mumbled something to them at a party about marriage equality, and who thinks that voting yes would take away your rights.
Speaking of straight allies: Get them talking. We need them to have the courage to be visible and outspoken, and I'll tell you why. Their peers will listen to them, or at the very least the dialogue will set in motion that 'evolving' phenomena that Gov. Gregoire and President Obama have experienced on the issue. Supporting us in silence isn't support at all. That's like witnessing a crime and not reporting it. All the straight allies in my life know - because I tell them - that they are appreciated and that I am thankful for their vote. But I also challenge them to be open and honest with their peers about why they support equality. In doing this, they are changing hearts and minds alongside us. We are the minority and they the majority. We simply cannot win a popular vote in November if we do not enlist the help of our straight allies by asking them to round up votes and donation dollars for our cause. Marriage equality is not a Gay or straight thing - it's a human thing. Our straight allies understand this. Now put them to work.
'But I Don't Want to Get Married!'
Finally, I want to talk about the members of our community who see fit to tell everyone around them that they don't care about marriage equality because they, themselves, don't wish to marry. I recognize, and respect, the fact that there are many among us who have no plans for same-sex matrimony. I am not going to try to talk anyone into marriage, nor is it my place to try. But I would ask them to give us the same respect, and stop trying to talk us out of it.
I happen to love my partner very much. I want to call him my husband and have that mean something more than just a cute title I give him when our friends are around. Aside from my hopeful wedded bliss, the fact remains that a vote to Approve Referendum 74 is not just a vote for marriage. It's a vote for equality. It's an affirmation that we, the LGBT community, deserve to be treated like U.S. citizens in our own country, not like second-class visitors. Here in Washington, the marriage equality law already exists. Why any member of our community would want to help the bigots take it away, simply because they personally don't want to get married, is beyond me. It isn't right, and it's counterproductive and selfish. More than marriage equality is on the line come November - now is not the time for us to tear at the very fabric that binds our community.
Our Opponents Aren't Stupid
Folks, we are 0-for-32. Nationwide, the bigots have beaten us at the ballot box every time same-sex marriage has been put to a popular vote. That is a fact. Some members in our community label our opponents as dumb and uneducated. Well, they are the 32 and we are the 0, so what does that make us? Do not mistake these people who diligently chip away at our equality as idiots. They are meticulous, organized, and motivated, with killer political instincts. It is going to get ugly on the campaign trail from now until November. We are going to hear 'one man and one woman' more times than we imagined was possible. And that's fine. Because if we band together and if true cooperation exists between the coalition that makes up Washington United for Marriage and the LGBT population in this state, the chants of 'APPROVE 74!' will grow so loud the whole nation will hear us. They need to hear us. Changing the score to 32-1 this November (or 32-3, if similar votes in Maine and Maryland go our way) will undoubtedly set into motion a new era - a time and place in American history where the bigots retreat and we advance. This is bigger than us. We cannot afford to sit this one out. The young and old, activist and volunteer, ally and LGBT alike must rise up and defeat hate and intolerance by voting to Approve Referendum 74.
There's a blank page in history waiting in November. When the quill hits the paper, what will it write about us?
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