Judge won't block vote on gay benefits

Posted: Wednesday, September 09, 2009

OLYMPIA, Wash. - A judge on Tuesday refused to block a proposed ballot initiative on expanded domestic partnership benefits for gay couples in Washington state.

An appeal was considered likely, however, with just a few days remaining before officials need to begin printing materials for the Nov. 3 general election.

The case involves Referendum 71, which would put the Legislature's latest expansion of domestic partnership rights for gay couples on the November ballot.

The measure, sponsored by a conservative political group called Protect Marriage Washington, would ask voters to approve or reject the "everything but marriage" domestic partnership law that state lawmakers passed earlier this year.

The lawsuit seeking to halt the vote was filed by Washington Families Standing Together, a gay-rights group. It claims Secretary of State Sam Reed improperly accepted thousands of petition signatures that supported putting R-71 on the ballot.

Thurston County Superior Court Judge Thomas McPhee rejected those arguments.

The new law would add more legal rights to the state's established domestic partnerships for gay couples, putting registered partners on par with married couples under state law. Unmarried heterosexual couples also could register as domestic partners.

A "yes" vote on R-71 would put the newest law into place, and a "no" vote would reject it. The underlying laws laying out domestic partnerships - enacted in 2007 and broadened once already in 2008 - would not be affected.

Washington Families Standing Together's previous attempt to block R-71 was turned away last week in King County for technical reasons. But King County Superior Court Judge Julie Spector said she was concerned Reed may have accepted tens of thousands of invalid signatures.

Reed certified R-71 for the November ballot last week. Election officials revised the number of accepted signatures downward Tuesday, after an audit showed some signatures had been incorrectly accepted.

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