The success in North Carolina on Tuesday night of an amendment to the state constitution banning same-sex marriages is seen by advocates of a much narrower measure in Washington as a sign of validation.
“It just proves what we’ve been saying all along,” said Joseph Backholm, president of the Family Policy Institute of Washington. “Despite what the media want you to believe, most people still think marriage should be between one man and one woman.
“That’s why same-sex marriage has failed in every state where it’s been on the ballot,” he said. “We’re 31 for 31 now, and Washington state will be 32.”
Backholm is currently an organizer of Preserve Marriage Washington, which is promoting a referendum that would overturn a law passed by the 2012 legislature that legalizes same-sex marriages in Washington state. The law is currently on hold waiting to see whether the voters will strike it down.
In order to be included on the November general election ballot, the authors of both measures are required to collect thousands of signatures on their petitions by June 6. Because of the large numbers of duplicate or unverifiable signatures that always show up on the documents, organizers typically turn in an extra 20 percent more just to be sure.
With a little less than a month remaining until the deadline, Referendum 74 has around 75,000 of the 125,000 signatures in hand, while I-1192 has just over 45,000 and needs an additional 200,000.
“I’m new to this, so it makes me a little nervous that we still have so much ground to make up,” Backholm said. “But people who do this all the time tell me it’s not unusual for more than half of the petitions to be turned in the last week alone.
“We’ve sent thousands of petitions and we know where all of them are,” he said. “Mostly they’re still sitting on people’s desks or kitchen tables waiting to be turned in. We’re not worried. We’ll get there. Both (of the ballot measures) will.”
Backholm said he’s not discouraged by public opinion polls that show the measures losing in Washington state. “That’s fairly typical in these contests,” he said. “The media are often the ones who conduct or sponsor the polls, and they have a vested interest in discouraging opposition.”
Nationwide, he said, the polls tend to overestimate the strength of same-sex marriage support by 5 to 7 percent.
“In California, there was never a poll that showed Proposition 9 passing,” Backholm noted. “But when the votes were counted, it passed 52-48. That should tell you something about the polls. I’m actually very excited about where we are right now.”
Stephen Pidgeon, who is overseeing the I-1192 campaign, admits his forces have a daunting task ahead of them, but he noted that Costco generated 300,000 signatures in three weeks last year in its successful attempt to privatize state liquor sales.
“Obviously most of the people collecting signatures want to have as many as they can, so they don’t turn in their petitions until the very last minute,” he said. “We’re confident we’ll have enough.”
Pidgeon believes his efforts are complicated, however, by an opinion paper written by Attorney General Rob McKenna several years ago that treats petition signatures as public information subject to disclosure requests by anyone who wants them.
A website called WhoSigned.org in 2009 requested and published the names of everyone who signed Referendum 71, which sought to overturn the state’s just-passed domestic partnership rule. Many on the list were subjected to harassing phone calls and e-mails, Pidgeon said, and the experience is making them think twice about going public this time.
He also cited the experience of a Yakima man who in April was quoted in the newspaper as promising to bring the R- 74 campaign to that community. The same night the quotes appeared, referendum opponents vandalized and totaled his wife’s car.
“There’s a climate of fear in this state,” he said. “Am I saying the left is violent, intolerant and bullying? Yes, absolutely I am.”
Like Backhold, Pidgeon wasn’t surprised by the outcome of the North Carolina constitutional amendment vote and believes it bodes well for Washington.
“Homosexuals who want to marry represent less than 1 percent of the entire population,” he said. “This isn’t about equal rights for homosexuals. It’s about crushing values, and people are starting to figure that out.”
“The other side’s argument in favor of same-sex marriage consists entirely of, ‘You’re a bad person if you disagree with us,’” Backholm said. “But for us, there’s strength in numbers.
“When you look at how the vote went in North Carolina and everywhere else it’s been tried,” he said, “it’s hard to make the case that same-sex-marriage is only opposed by bigots when the bigots always seem to be in the majority.”