West Seattle residents Ray Burley and Matthew Darling are domestic partners. Approval of Ref. 71 would give them additional rights as a couple.
Same sex partners, senior's rights at stake in Ref. 71
While West Seattle voters learn more about Seattle’s two mayoral candidates, Mike McGinn and Joe Mallahan, some area politicians and activists say the bigger struggle is informing the public about the statewide Referendum 71, or R-71, which will also be on the Nov. 3 general election ballot.
If passed, the bill would expand rights both to same-sex domestic partners, and all Washington citizens over 62 in committed partnerships.
Gov. Christine Gregoire signed SB5688 into law May 18 that added these additional rights to domestic partners. But on July 25 the organization Protect Marriage Washington submitted enough valid signatures to the Secretary of State to challenge SB5688 by placing a referendum (R-71) on the Nov. 3 ballot.
Voting to “approve R-71” means honoring Gregoire’s SB5688 bill. Voting to “disapprove R-71” means eliminating those additional domestic partner rights, numbering about 300, in her bill.
“The question on the ballot is to approve or reject the bill the legislature adopted earlier this year, so to keep the domestic partner statute vote to ‘approve R-71,’” said State Sen. Joe McDermott, Democrat, 34th District, who cosponsored SB5688.
The Protect Marriage Washington Web site states that by approving R-71 a “huge majority” of Washingtonians would be “changing society morals” to cater to a small minority of the state population.
“Basic fairness should not be judged by how many people it applies to,” said McDermott, who lives with Michael Culpepper, his domestic partner, in West Seattle. “We want Washington’s laws to protect all citizens.
“Beyond the 12,000 domestic partners in Washington, these laws would protect the children they’re raising and build stronger community across the state. To deny a segment to fairness is denying equality to all of us.
“This bill makes sure all citizens have pension benefits, survivor benefits, healthcare decision making, everything married couples have that same sex couples are denied.
“You can certainly write a will, but when a firefighter or police officer is killed in the line of duty, the spouse gets support. Shouldn’t same sex couples have the same protection as heterosexuals when they put their life on the line every day?”
Protect Marriage Washington says if R-71 is approved, public school students as young as kindergartners will become indoctrinated into homosexuality by being forced to read books about children being raised by same-sex partners. McDermott calls this tactic bogus.
“This bill doesn’t amend the education statutes,” he said. “There is nothing in it about school curriculum. I think it’s a scare tactic, a true red herring to try to divert people’s attention, and insight fear to our friends and neighbors.
“The main concern you hear from the other side is about marriage,” he said. “This does not confer marriage. I wish it were so. The bill doesn’t say that religious institutions have to recognize relationships. The faith-based community does not have to recognize same-sex unions, which are civil based. ”
“I walked away with this from those against the R-71 bill- 'They don’t want their kids taught that gay is OK,'" said Charlene Strong who appears on TV ads for Equal Rights Washington, which approves R-71.
Strong is well known in Seattle because of the December 2006 tragedy, when her partner, Kaye Fleming, died in a flash flood that trapped her inside her Madison Valley basement studio. Because of Washington’s limited same sex partner rights, Strong had to fight to have access in the hospital to be with her partner of 10 years as she died.
Strong’s testimony before the state Senate resulted in signing a domestic partnership bill by Gov. Gregoire.
“Technically my problem with Kate has been (legally) solved, but some attitudes have not changed,” said Strong while on a road trip with a troupe of Equal Rights Washington representatives to speak to groups statewide about R-71. She said she still feels she is stigmatized for being gay.
“We have to carry a domestic partner identity card for the hospital doors to open," she said.
“Some seem to think that God is behind them and I find there is no way to get through to them,” she said of those opposed to the bill she has spoken to. “I’ve yet to hear any arguments with any clarity against the bill. I am reaching out to the other side of the state. It would be ridiculous just preaching to the choir.”
Bev Nyberg, a Ballard resident, grew up in West Seattle and teaches at Cascade High School in Everett. Her same sex partner Kris Vasquez teaches in the Renton school district.
“This isn’t voting for marriage,” she said. “It is so infuriating and off-track that the bill gets this criticism. It is unfortunate that the other side resorts to propaganda tactics and painting us in a bad light. My partner has two daughters. We have three grandchildren. We’re not evil people. We love our family. We work hard. We volunteer in our district. community. Why should we be denied?”
Larry Stickney is the president and campaign manager of Protect Marriage of Washington and sponsored the referendum. He served for a decade as a legislative aide to Snohomish County Councilman and former State Rep. John Koster and was an elected officer of the Kitsap County Republican Party and served on their executive board.
“Our whole objection to this bill has been that we are not in favor of homosexual marriage,” said Stickney, an Arlington resident. “They may say it’s not about marriage, but their prize is marriage, and this (bill) is the last intermittent step to marriage.
“The definition of marriage is one man and one woman,” he said. “Certain demographic groups are trying to raid it. This is a monstrosity. It’s a free country but we have standards.”
And as for R-71 helping senior citizens with domestic partners?
“Seniors are being duped, horn-swoggled, used by being baited with fiscal incentives by this demographic," said Stickney.
Stickney and his organization are also against divorce, and having children out of wedlock.
“The best way to raise a child is with one father and one mother, not just one father, or just one mother, or two fathers or two mothers,” he said.
“The U.S. is not just a giant organism that can take these hits. This is the latest assault to marriage.”