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Checking the facts behind both sides of same-sex marriage ads

Simply Boaz

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Last minute money is pouring into the ballot fight over same-sex marriage in Washington. Those dollars are buying television ads on both sides of the issue. So what claims are the campaigns making?

Gay rights advocates say Referendum 74 is about marriage equality. But the first TV ad from the Preserve Marriage Washington campaign disputes that notion.

Announcer: “Referendum 74 is not about equality. Gays and lesbians already have the same legal rights as married couples.”

Let’s stop there. It’s true that gay and lesbian couples in Washington who register as domestic partners enjoy the same rights and responsibilities as married couples. State lawmakers passed that law in 2009 and Washington voters upheld it. But gay rights supporters always considered it a step on the road to marriage. The ad continues.

Announcer: “R-74 redefines marriage.”

That’s true as far as state law goes. Washington voters will decide whether to approve or reject a new law that changes the legal definition of marriage from a civil contract between “a male and a female” to one between “two persons.”

Announcer: “But marriage is more than a commitment between adults. It was created for the care and well-being for the next generation.”

Stephanie Coontz: “It’s more complicated than that.”

Stephanie Coontz is a nationally recognized expert on the history of marriage and professor at Evergreen State College. She says marriage has always been about offspring in part, but:

Stephanie Coontz: “Most research suggests marriage was originally invented primarily to create in-laws, to make alliances between groups.”

Next, the ad flashes a series of still photographs.

Announcer: “When laws like 74 have occurred elsewhere, people who disagree have faced lawsuits, fines and punishment.”

The photo montage includes a town clerk from central New York State who was threatened with a lawsuit when she refused on religious grounds to sign a lesbian couple’s marriage license. Marriage could lead to more anti-bias cases, but in Washington it’s already against the law to discriminate based on sexual orientation. Now let’s move on to the other side of the debate.

Maureen Walsh: “I was married for 23 years to the love of my life.”

Washington United for Marriage is running ads that feature personal stories as told by non-gay supporters of same-sex marriage. Like Republican State Representative Maureen Walsh who lost her husband six years ago.

Maureen Walsh: “Allowing marriage for same-sex couples is a question of fundamental fairness.”

Plenty of voters may disagree with that statement. But the Walsh ad avoids claims of fact that might be disputed. The Approve 74 campaign did run an earlier ad about hospital visitation that said: “only marriage guarantees that all couples can be there for each other when it really matters.” But under current Washington law, registered domestic partners do have hospital visitation rights. Proponents counter that marriage is easier to understand and would reduce the chance of confusion, especially in an emergency.

Copyright 2012 Northwest News Network

R-74 Online Voters’ Guide

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy as well as the Washington State legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia." Prior to joining the Northwest News Network, Austin worked as a television reporter in Seattle, Portland and Boise. Austin is a graduate of Garfield High School in Seattle and Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut. Austin’s reporting has been recognized with awards from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors, Public Radio News Directors Incorporated and the Society of Professional Journalists.