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Same-sex marriage ballot fight makes for double puzzle

Post by TNT Editorial Board / The News Tribune on April 25, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
April 25, 2012 2:47 pm

This editorial will appear in Thursday’s print edition.

This year’s political argument over same-sex marriage is already divisive; it shouldn’t have to be confusing to boot.

Confusion has been arising from the two signature-gathering campaigns to overturn the Legislature’s legalization of same-sex marriage. Some citizens aren’t clear on what cause they’re be advancing by signing or not signing the petitions.

The short take: A signature on either petition helps subject marriage equality to a popular vote this November. That’s something you want to do if you oppose same-sex marriage or believe the decision belongs to the electorate.

The “decline to sign” counter-campaign seeks to secure same-sex marriage by preventing the threatened repeal from reaching the ballot. Yet an election would produce the best possible outcome if the new marriage law survived it: For the first time, same-sex marriage would have been directly ratified by voters rather than enacted by legislatures or imposed by courts. The law’s legitimacy would be beyond dispute.

Why two measures? Because there are two separate groups working to undo the Legislature’s measure, Senate Bill 6239.

One group is resorting to the referendum process, which lets voters affirm or reject a new law (referendum campaigns are always hostile to the law in question). Referendum 74 would repeal SB 6239, preserving the traditional requirement that a husband be male and a wife female.

Another level of complexity: If Referendum 74 makes the ballot, you endorse it by marking “rejected.” What you’d be rejecting is SB 6239, not the referendum.
R-74 has been dominating the news, in part because Western Washington’s Roman Catholic archbishop, the Most Rev. J. Peter Sartain, has encouraged parishes to solicit signatures in church.

There’s some confusion here, too: Churches have every right to participate vigorously in initiative and referendum campaigns. They endanger their tax-exempt status only by engaging in partisan politics – by endorsing candidates, for example. What the parishes are doing is politically – not legally – controversial.

Like R-74, Initiative 1192 would overturn SB 6239. It would do so by enacting a new law specifying that marriage is “a civil contract between (a male) one man and (a female) one woman.”

Given the ambiguity that surrounds the “rejected” and “approved” options on a referendum ballot, there’s a possibility – if the measures qualify, and the margins are close – that the electorate will both repeal and affirm gay marriage, by enacting the initiative and “approving” R-74.

What happens then? Well, that’s when the confusion will really begin.

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