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Celebrating Domestic Partnerships in Washington State

Jennifer Shaw,
ACLU of Washington
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December 9, 2009

On December 3, we celebrated Domestic Partnership day in Washington state!

Well, not officially. But it was the day that our “everything but marriage” domestic partnership law went into effect.And given our recent electoral battle, it was truly a day to celebrate!

A little bit of history. For decades, activists in Washington struggled to pass legislation to protect people from discrimination based on perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.In 1997, activists got tired of waiting for the legislature to act and decided to go directly to the voters with a ballot initiative, I-677.The results were devastating.Not only was the initiative rejected by a margin of nearly 60 percent, but for yearsafterwards, legislators refused to even consider the ideaagain.

We didn’t give up.In 2006, after nearly 30 years of hard work, our legislature passed the anti-discrimination bill.The next year, we passed a bill creating a domestic partnership registry with some limited legal protections.In 2008 we added additional rights and in 2009, just this past spring, our governor signed into law a bill that grants domestic partners all of the rights and responsibilities of marriage under state law.

We were thrilled with our progress. But the passage of the “everything but marriage” bill also energized marriage equality opponents.They decided to use Washington’s referendum process to ask the voters to decide whether or not the legislation should become law.They collected just enough signatures, and in September the Secretary of State’s office determined that the measure qualified for the ballot.

This is part of what makes our victory so spectacular.Our campaign to Approve Referendum 71 had only six weeks from the date when the matter was certified to organize!

This campaign was truly a thing of beauty.With strong leadership and a coordinating committee and coalition members made up of representatives from progressive organizations across the state, we were able to hit the ground running without the in-fighting or internal strife that can come with large coalition efforts. The coalition was called Washington Families Standing Together and we kept the focus on protecting all families. And we made sure that same-sex couples and their children were featured prominently in the campaign.

Each coalition partner organization focused on its own area of expertise.Faith leaders recruited hundreds of pastors, rabbis, and congregations to sign a letter of support and talk about their support publicly. Business leaders recruited business support, elected officials lined up endorsements from their colleagues. People with tech capabilities managed the website and signed up more than 40,000 Facebook friends.Field organizers for the campaign and coalition partners lined up hundreds of volunteers to phone-bank, canvas, write letters to the editor, wave signs, and — most importantly — talk to friends, coworkers, and neighbors to explain why all families deserve to be protected by our laws.

The ACLU was part of the coordinating committee and also worked hard on the campaign.We reached out to our allies in communities of color, got op-eds and interviews in ethic media, and issued a statement of support that included more than 30 organizations serving various communities of color across the state. The ACLU also produced a series of videos of interviews with people in Washington discussing why the domestic partnership law is so important to them.

Please note that by playing this clip You Tube and Google will place a long-term cookie on your computer. Please see You Tube’s privacy statement on their website and Google’s privacy statement on theirs to learn more. To view the ACLU’s privacy statement, click here.

And the most exciting part? We won!And we did so with nearly 53 percent of the vote across the state. And while we did not win a majority of the votes in every county in the state, the percentage of people who voted to support LGBT rights in 2009 increased substantially in nearly every county compared with the 1997 vote on I-677.

No, we have not achieved full marriage equality in Washington — yet.But in this battle that we did not seek, we proved that voters can support LGBT rights.

— By Jennifer Shaw, Deputy Director; Liezl Tomas Rebugio, Field Director; and
Doug Honig, Communications Director, ACLU of Washington

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