OLYMPIA, Wash. - From the moment Gov. Christine Gregoire signed the bill legalizing same-sex marriage, opponents have been gearing up.
If they can collect enough signatures they can force a November referendum on gay marriage. But what exactly should the ballot say?
The Attorney General's Office is supposed to come up with a neutral way to ask the question. What the state proposed was to ask voters to approve or reject a bill that would "redefine marriage to allow same-sex couples to marry."
Gay marriage supporters immediately objected to the word "redefine,” telling a judge Tuesday that "redefine" is a loaded word that could sway voters to say no.
"Felt that it was prejudicial, felt that it wasn't clear for the voters,” said Anne Levinson of PFLAG.
"The definition of marriage and the purported change to that definition is in fact the lynchpin of the legislation," said Austin Nimocks of Preserve Marriage Washington.
Opponents argued to the judge that the word "redefine" is accurate. And the state Attorney General's Office says it agreed to the word "redefine" because the bill changes the legal definition of marriage.
"It's a literal description of what the measure does," said Jeffrey Even, Wash. Deputy Solicitor General.
But the judge disagreed. He made several changes to the ballot, most significantly, taking out the word "redefine." Instead, the ballot will read, "This bill would allow same-sex couples to marry..."
"Is the fact of redefinition an essential element of the law that's being considered by the voters. I conclude that it is not," said Judge Thomas McPhee, Thurston Superior Court
"I think the judge came to one of what are probably almost infinite number of good ways to do it," Jeffrey Even, Wash. Deputy Solicitor General.
State attorneys say they were satisfied. Opponents, while not getting their way, say they'll have to live with the ballot summary:
"The good part about today is that tomorrow, the citizens of Washington get to start signing referendum petitions,” said Nimocks.
Preserve Marriage Washington, which filed R-74, can now start circulating petitions to collect signatures. If they submit 120,577 valid signatures of registered voters by the June 6 deadline, the issue will go to the voters.