Although the ballots are still being counted, last night news outlets called Washington State’s domestic partnership referendum in our favor! As of late Thursday, we were wining by 52 to 48 percent, a deficit the Seattle Times called “insurmountable” for the opponents of gay rights.
Our success is exciting on a number of levels. First, because it means the benefits offered to domestic partners in Washington will be expanded to include all the same protections offered to married couples. It’s also a larger symbolic win — Washington is now the first state in the nation where same-sex relationship protections have been affirmatively approved by voters. And it’s a victory for organizing. Between the date the referendum was put on the ballot and Election Day, the Approve Referendum 71 campaign had only two months to educate and mobilize voters. Even with this condensed timeline, the campaign was successful in building a broad coalition of community faith, labor and business groups, and winning endorsements from newspapers across the region and from leading Northwest businesses including Google, Microsoft and Starbucks.
It’s also exciting to look at this victory in terms of how far we’ve come in winning popular support for LGBT rights in Washington State. As Lurleen on Pam’s House Blend points out, the last time Washington voted on LGBT rights in 1997, on an initiative that would have created an employment non-discrimination law, garnered only 40 percent of the vote. Since then, Lurleen notes, nearly every Washington county has shown an increase in pro-equality voting.
That’s terrific news — but we still have a long ways to go. As demonstrated by the county-by-county results for Ref. 71, support for domestic partnerships, while strong in the urban, coastal areas of the state, fell off significantly on the east side of the Cascades.
A view from my trip to Washington
I had the opportunity last month to film a series of videos for the Ref. 71 Campaign that featured the personal testimonials from Washington domestic partners, and in shooting the ads, I intentionally searched for testimonials from less urban parts of the state.
If we’re going to move forward in the fight for equality, we can’t just rely on King County. We need to start winning hearts and minds in the rest of the state. Voters in Eastern Washington need to understand that gay and lesbian families live and take part in these communities as well. Like Cindy and Janet from Richland, their kids go to the local public schools. Like Diane and Marge from Spokane, they work at your city paper and enjoy gardening. They are your small-town family doctor and school nutritionist, like Julia and Kari from Yakima. And like Clarkston residents Cathlin and Avril, they find consolation in their faith to cope with health problems.
Our victory on Referendum 71 ensures protections for these couples, and the thousands of other domestic partners in Washington State. On a personal note, I’m really proud of my home state for voting to expand LGBT rights and I hope we can harness this momentum to keep organizing for full equality.