More on Referendum 71 in Washington

Referendum 71, approving strong "marriage in all but name" domestic partnerships in Washington state, looks likely to pass. There's been some interesting analysis this morning:

First, the opposition still hopes to win. There are likely a couple hundred thousand ballots still to be counted, because (as I understand it) Washington voters could postmark mail-in ballots as late as Tuesday. So in theory, yes, the Reject side could still win; somewhere on the order of a third to a quarter of the votes aren't in yet.

However, it's expected that about half of those remaining votes will come from King County, the most populous county in the state, where Seattle is; and the voting so far from that county has run two-to-one in favor of R-71. And although most of the more rural counties in the state have been opposed, they haven't been 100% opposed. It's still all speculation at this point, but things are looking pretty good.

One thing that I'm not thrilled about is that the margin isn't bigger. At the moment it's 52% in favor. That's great, and I'll take any margin, no matter how small. But this isn't a marriage-equality bill. This is enhancing existing domestic partnership laws. It's confirming what the legislature and governor have already set up: equal rights without the word "marriage." It's exactly what a lot of people who are uncomfortable with the idea of same-sex marriage say they want. Why would anyone be opposed to it?

There are a variety of arguments that could be made against R-71, but in my view most of them boil down to two things:

  • It's a stepping stone, a gateway drug, a slippery slope, to same-sex marriage. Fair enough; I'm sure that many R-71 proponents would like it to become a stepping-stone to marriage. But, y'know, this argument can be made against anything that recognizes LGBT civil rights in any way. Give those queer people rights, and they might start getting uppity!
  • The real key point: opposition to homosexuality. The people who are opposed to marriage-equality measures elsewhere can hide their homophobia behind sanctimonious lies—"We're of course not prejudiced, but think how awful it will be if Teh Gay is taught in schools! to children! and poor God-fearing Christian folk will be hounded for their beliefs and made to perform gay weddings or risk jail—or worse!" But when domestic partnerships are the issue, it's hard to come up with arguments that even sound like they're not homophobic. "We're not anti-gay, of course not; we just don't think Those People should have any legal rights, because that might imply that the State considers them to be people!"

(There are, of course, a few other arguments. For example, there's the whole thing about how people who aren't really in committed relationships will pretend to be involved with each other in order to sneakily get benefits. THE HORROR! It's a smokescreen, of course, but I suppose that that one does manage a façade of rationality.)

Anyway. So there's a kind of negative-sounding News Tribune article that says that R-71 supporters didn't really do all that much; that the reason R-71 seems likely to win is that opponents didn't present strong arguments. I may be reading too much into the article, but it reads to me like they're saying that there were strong arguments out there to be made, and if only opponents had been more on the ball, this wouldn't be happening. On the contrary, my feeling is that opponents failed to make strong arguments because there really aren't any strong opposition arguments to be made; the basic argument is OMG TEH GAY!!!!!

And the sad thing to me is that that argument appears to have worked for about 48% of those who voted.

However, the comments to that article make a really good point, which is explained in more detail in a Pam's House Blend article: "almost every Washington county shows an increase in pro-equality voting." In particular:

The last time Washington voters had the opportunity to ratify a pro-equality law at the polls was in 1997. Initiative to the People 677 proposed an employment non-discrimination law. The ballot title read Shall discrimination based on sexual orientation be prohibited in employment, employment agency, and union membership practices, without requiring employee partner benefits or preferential treatment?

The measure was rejected 59.7% to 40.3%. Contrary to the current image of the Puget Sound area of Washington as progressive, not one single county—not even Seattle's home of King County—voted to approve I-677. [...] But the truly stunning statistic is that the rate of ballot measure approval increased between 1997 and 2009 in all but one county.

So we've come a long way in the past twelve years.

And a blog entry on the Post-Intelligencer website makes clear how much work and community support went into trying to get R-71 approved. There's a lot of good and heartwarming stuff in that entry.

And here are the two things noted in that entry that make R-71 not only an important victory but a historic one:

First, if I'm reading the WA Secretary of State's referendum stats page correctly, R-71 (if approved) will be only the 7th referendum ever approved by WA voters; the other 28 referendum measures that have made it to the ballot have failed. (The blog entry I linked to above says R-71 would be the 6th to be approved; I'm not sure where the discrepancy lies.) So R-71 was facing an uphill battle simply by virtue of being a referendum measure.

And second, and perhaps most importantly:

"An LGBT referendum has never [before] been approved by voters anywhere in the United States."

. . . I'm not entirely sure what exactly the parameters are for that statement. The AP confirms that it's "the first time any state's voters have approved a gay equality measure at the ballot box," but I'm having a hard time finding more detailed info about what kinds of measures are included in that statistic. Still, whatever the definition, it's a nice first; and if nothing else, it makes it a little bit harder for the antis to fall back on the "let the people decide" argument.

Which reminds me to note that of course R-71 should never have been on the ballot in the first place. Minority rights simply should not be subject to popular vote. But given that it was on the ballot, I'm very glad that it seems likely to pass.

2 Responses to “More on Referendum 71 in Washington”

  1. Elaine

    I’m thrilled it passed, but the county-by-county tally is quite eye-opening. Some counties, and not just east of the mountains, rejected 60-40, or even 70-30! ::sigh::

    • Jed

      I agree that it’s sad to see such strong opposition in the counties outside the Puget Sound area.

      On the other hand, as that Pam’s House Blend article noted, “the rate of ballot measure approval increased between 1997 and 2009 in all but one county.”

      Progress is slow. But it’s happening.


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