While the eyes of the LGBT nation are now focused on President Obama signing the federal hate crimes bill today, and on beating back the Religious Right Prop 8 sequel in Maine, same sex couples in Washington state are sweating bullets that on Nov. 3 they might lose the simplest of family relationship protections - domestic partnerships.
At a Hollywood fundraiser for Maine last week thrown by Oscar-winning producer Bruce Cohen and political consultant Chad Griffin - the team behind the Ted Olson-David Boies federal challenge to Prop 8 - Cohen said the two challenges are important part of the national movement towards full equal rights:
"When [the federal challenge to Prop 8] makes it up to the highest court that it ends at - how many states have marriage is going to be a huge part of that victory. So it very much impacts all of us in the state of California and everyone concerned with Prop 8 what happens in Washington state [where an initiative to keep Domestic Partnerships is on the ballot] and in Maine on Nov 3 - and in the District of Columbia where we could have marriage recognized from all over the world - and in New York state where marriage may pass in the next couple of weeks."
But it's an off-year election and Washington is a largely vote-by-mail state where a lot of people might not understand that Approve Referendum 71 means a vote to keep a law already passed by the legislature. After all, Ref. 71, as it's known, is 111-pages of technical legalese!
Besides, gays and straights alike generally seem to assume that same sex couples should have or already do receive protections such as the right to visit a dying loved one in the hospital. The latest Pew Research poll indicates that 57% favor civil unions. And "Holy smoke," as blogger Pam Spaulding puts it, even the University of Alabama at Birmingham is extending health insurance benefits to same sex partners!
So who would ever believe that the state that brought us Starbucks, and that erudite TV stuck-up Frasier and "Savage Love" columnist Dan Savage would put Domestic Partnerships up to a vote? And surely, Domestic Partnerships would be affirmed.
Well, most of the nation thought that Prop 8 would fail, too. After all - it's California!
But here's the thing: just like the Religious Right's victory in California emboldened them to export their Prop 8 strategy to Maine to stop marriage equality there - so, too, a Religious Right victory in Washington state would enable them to try to stop or undo legal protections for same sex couples in other states and even challenge the need for the recently introduced federal Domestic Partnership and Obligations Act.
Think I'm kidding? Well, Protect Marriage Washington - the West Coast version of Stand for Marriage Maine - is pushing the "slippery slope" argument that Domestic Partnerships (and civil unions) is the first domino to fall in the cascading line to same sex marriage. Think of this as the Religious Right's version of the old "domino theory" advanced by military advocates of the Vietnam War who said if Vietnam fell to the Communists, the whole region would go Communist, too. (It didn't.)
Here is Bob Struble, from Protect Marriage Washington behind the Reject 71 campaign, in an Oct. 19 KUOW radio report using by now familiar (remember the National Organizations for Marriage's "Gathering Storm") fear tactics.
"This may be the last chance the people of Washington state have to weigh-in on this issue...
And if the people are deceived into thinking this is not about same-sex marriage which it really is, it's about this whole same-sex agenda, and go along with this argument then they'll never get another chance, courts will rule and that will be the end of the story."
The radio reporter says Ref. 71 is being watched closely by national opponents of same sex marriage. Jenny Tyree is with Colorado-based Focus on the Family Action:
"Vermont is a perfect example because they first had civil unions and declared that wasn't enough and so they pushed until they were able to redefine marriage completely in that state and there's a similar push in New Jersey."
And just as we saw in California with Prop 8 and now in Maine, opponents of same sex family relationships use out-dated opinions about raising children and the literally interpretation of the Bible as evidence to support their arguments.
Focus' Tyree - and remember - she is speaking in the context of Washinton's Domestic Partnerships:
"Rather than trying to completely undermine the definition of marriage I think we should be trying to strengthen those family forms, and yes, doing what we can for families in alternative situations, but that doesn't necessarily mean that caring for them requires the redefinition of the very best family form."
And then there's Struble reading from a recent resolution by local chapter of the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic Fraternal organization.
"Whereas sexual activity between same-sex partners is listed in the Bible right in between child sacrifice and bestiality as an, quote, 'abomination in the sight of God.'"
In an excellent, detailed post last May entitled "Bat. Shit. Crazy." Washington blogger Lurleen deconstructs the far-out Religious Right underpinnings of the argument against Ref. 71 being spread through churches, via email, and on radio throughout the vast part of the state that is not Seattle.
Lurleen quotes attorney Stephen Pidgeon, a prominent Protect Marriage Washington supporter, as saying this during an interview with Larry Stickney, another Religious Right fanatic:
"[When] you come in and you introduce the concept of same-sex marriage or secular marriage, or any of the other rituals that have been formed by the state - and what you do is disestablish the godly order in favor of an order of death. Now let me say this to you Larry, because it's the important part. The government, government was created to kill."
With absolutely no sense of irony or contradiction, Protect Marriage Washington also uses government officials to push the Ref. 71- same sex marriage Armageddon link. In this post urgently asking for money, it's State Sen. Val Stevens:
"Are the homosexuals finally going to take control of our culture and push their depraved lifestyle on our children and families?
And now, we need one more miracle to stay the course and ward off - what could be - the final assault on our families and American culture by the homosexuals.
You may just be that miracle...."
Stevens goes on, presenting a litany of horrors - linking the necessity to stop Washington's Domestic Partnership law with the "free love" 60's radical culture," NAMBLA,"pro-homosexual websites" that seek to "'normalize' homosexuality - which means pushing the lifestyle through public schools, beginning with elementary school-aged children. They will settle for nothing less than your full-scale acceptance - whether you like it or not!"
Hear that echo of San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom's famous "whether you like it or not" enthusiastic shout of glee after marriage equality was legalized in California? The Religious Right continues to use as a way to fear-monger over made up "consequences."
I wrote extensively about this in my piece "The Religious Right is Swiftboating Same Sex Marriage in Maine" showing how religious conservative political consultant Frank Shubert used the "gift" of Newsom's shout as a dire warning:
"This is not about tolerance. This is about forced acceptance of gay marriage - whether you like it or not."
Washington State Sen. Stevens uses the same idea:
"After 27 years of relentless pursuit, homosexuals finally received protected class status from the Washington State Legislature in 2006, making it illegal for you to refuse to rent them a house, or hire them on account of their homosexuality..... And I hope you will put up a clarion call to your friends and family and let them know that we are on the verge of losing the battle of our lifetimes if we don't stand up now!"
So while the LGBT nation is focused on such important events such as Obama signing the first major piece of pro-LGBT legislation in memory, and the struggle against the forces of intolerance are being waged on the ground in Maine - the Religious Right is working hard on their second flank - the effort to end recognition of all LGBT protections. There is an effort right now to strip a nondiscrimination ordinance in Kalamazoo, Michigan, for instance.
But if the Religious Right succeeds in preventing a Domestic Partnership law from taking effect in Washington state, expect more such battles ahead. As Box Turtle Bulletin points out, proponents of Arizona's constitional ban on same sex marriage promised not to go after Domestic Partnerships. But Gov. Jan Brewer (R) just signed a budget that strips health insurance from the families of approximately 800 state employees, along with other Domestic Partnership benefits.
Last June, the Nevada Assembly overrode Gov. Jim Gibbon's veto of a Domestic partnership law that went into effect on Oct. 1. That surely will be up for anther battle if the forces of intolerance win in Washington state.
And then there's Wisconsin which just adopted a Domestic Partnership Registry. But if the forces of intolerance win in Washington state, they can challenge that law based on their 2006 constitutional ban on same sex marriage which states:
"Only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in this state. A legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized in this state."
Congressmember Tammy Baldwin, the lesbian who introduced the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act, represents Wisconsin.
Andrew Sullivan got it right in writing about a "Christianist right" add opposing Washington's Domestic Partnership law:
"It's a useful reminder that it doesn't matter what equality is called - civil unions, domestic partnerships, civil partnerships, or civil marriage - the GOP believes in no rights for gay couples whatsoever."
The Approve Ref 71 campaign has set up a virtual phone bank if you want to phone from home and get voters to mail in the right ballot or get them to the polls in this off-year election.
Additionally, they have set up an Act Blue fundraising account.
There is an urgent need to help Washington state stand as a another victory for equality in America.
Originally posted at LGBT POV.