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Washington's same-sex marriage law on hold; Will it be major issue in elections?

The Associated Press

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Washington's gay marriage law is now on hold.

Preserve Marriage Washington submitted more than 200,000 signatures Wednesday, blocking the law from taking effect on Thursday.

State officials will review the filings over the next week to determine whether the proposed referendum will qualify for a public vote.

The referendum seeks to overturn the measure allowing same-sex marriage in the state. That law was passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Chris Gregoire earlier this year.

Factor in elections?

One of the biggest questions is whether same-sex marriage will play a major role in the upcoming elections. With President Obama declaring his support and Republicans set against making same-sex marriage legal, it is bound to be a topic for debate among the two sides.

In Washington’s race for governor, the issue is also one of the few clearly dividing stances between candidates Jay Inslee and Rob McKenna. McKenna told the AP that he will vote no on Referendum 74 and his Democratic opponent Inslee, will vote yes to uphold the law.

National Organization for Marriage, one of the main groups that backed Proposition 8 in California to ban same-sex marriage, promised yesterday to make such marriages an issue in seven swing states critical to the outcome of this year's presidential election,the San Francisco Chronicle reported this morning.

The paper reported: National Organization for Marriage Political Director Frank Schubert said the Obama campaign on Monday threw the first punch by releasing a television ad featuring actress Sarah Jessica Parker telling viewers that Obama was "the guy who ended the war in Iraq; the guy who says you should be able to marry anyone you want; the guy who created 4 million new jobs." Obama is "clearly staking a great deal of his re-election campaign on same-sex marriage," Schubert said.

The Christian Science Monitor in May reported the issue could hurt both candidates, but could be a bigger problem for Obama:

Like President Obama, Americans are “evolving” in the direction of greater tolerance. But the number is actually down slightly from last year – 50 percent today compared with 53 percent a year ago, according to Gallup. And in several important swing states that Obama won by slim margins in 2008, strong majorities have voted to ban same-sex marriages in state referendums. (North Carolina, Florida, and Ohio come to mind.) Since older, more conservative voters are more likely to show up at the polls on Election Day, Obama will need to reenergize the younger voters who propelled him to victory last time.

Support for same-sex marriage strong here

Thirty-two times in 32 states, voters have said marriage should remain between one man and one woman. The most recent vote was last month in North Carolina. But pollster Matt Barreto at the University of Washington says, “It could be that Washington state is poised to make history on this issue.”

Barreto notes that in 2009 Washington voters upheld an everything-but-marriage domestic partnership law. He also points to his Washington Poll where support for gay marriage has gone from 30 percent to 43 percent since 2006.

“What that shows is that people who strongly support same-sex marriage are already into their mid-40s," Barreto says. "And that means that’s not a lot of more people that they need to convince to come over to that other side.”

At the same time, Barreto says a significant number of Washington voters are okay with civil rights for gay and lesbian couples, but believe marriage goes too far. It’s voters in the middle who may ultimately decide the fate of Referendum 74.

One of four states

Washington is likely to be one of four states with a same-sex marriage measure question on the ballot in this presidential election year, The Seattle Times reported. The National Organization for Marriage is backing those efforts.

The Times reports:

In Maryland, opponents of gay marriage have turned in more than enough signatures to allow voters to decide whether to retain or reject same-sex legislation passed by lawmakers there. In Maine, gay-rights advocates are asking the same voters who recalled a same-sex marriage law in that state in 2009 to restore it. And in Minnesota, voters will consider whether to ban gay marriage in their state's constitution -- in similar fashion to a constitutional ban that voters in North Carolina approved last month.

Legal issues

The Washington secretary of state's office recommends that campaigns submit about 150,000 signatures in order to provide a cushion for invalid or duplicate signatures. Washington voters upheld an "everything but marriage" law in a 2009 referendum.

The Supreme Court is expected to take up the issue as soon as early next year, following Tuesday's refusal by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco to have the full court reconsider a three-judge ruling that found Prop. 8 unconstitutional, the Chronicle reported.

Last week, the First U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston ruled that the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutionally denies Social Security, tax, immigration preferences, and other federal benefits to married gay and lesbian couples.

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.
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