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R-74 – One Of The Most Compelling Issues In Recent WA Election History

R-74 a much discussed initiative
(Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images)

R-74 (which would uphold Gov. Gregoire’s gay marriage law) is one of the most talked about measures on the November ballot in many election years.

SB 6239 was originally passed in the Washington State legislature, but then set back to the November ballot after a petition with necessary signatures was filed by Preserve Marriage Washington.  R-74 would uphold the law.  The Senate Bill was originally introduced by Gov. Chris Gregoire at the urging of several gay Washington state legislators, and has support from Bill Gates, and NYC Mayor Bloomberg, and Macy’s.

Same-sex couples argue that despite domestic partnership laws,  married couples have numerous advantages in the areas of taxes, (married filing jointly), insurance, Federal benefits, and other retirement areas.       Opponents counter by arguing marriage has largely been defined in the U.S. by influence from the Judeo-Christian foundation of the country, and that God has ordained marriage to be between a man and woman.  Unless two people are married in a civil ceremony, virtually all other Christian faiths include the theological elements.

The text of the bill, (R-74) as it appears on the ballot is as follows:

“This bill allows same-sex couples to marry, applies marriage laws without regard to gender, and specifies that laws using gender-specific terms like husband and wife include same-sex spouses. After 2014, existing domestic partnership are converted to marriages, except for seniors. It preserves the right of clergy or religious organizations to refuse to perform or recognize any marriage or accommodate wedding ceremonies. The bill does not affect licensing of religious organizations providing adoption, foster-care, or child-placement.”[

Supporters of SB6239 said they did not intend to re-define marriage, opponents say the bill would do that.   Because of legal issues that have already occurred in other areas, the bill contained the right of clergy or religious refusal (highlighted in previous paragraph).  During the original approval of SB 6239, Everett attorney Stephen Pidgeon filed an initiative with the state that would have clarified the definition of marriage.  The initiative was filed in January 2012.

The Washington Definition of Marriage Initiative of 2012 would have asked voters to decide if marriage was defined as being between only “one man and one woman.”   This would have required another measure before voters to then re-define marriage again before SB6239 could have become law.  The initiative did not make it to the November ballot.

  Preserve Marriage Washington represents the pro-traditional marriage,  Washington United for Marriage is the group largely responsible for SB6239.

8 states have enacted measures similar to SB6239.  Supporters say it simply creates civil equality for same sex couples.   Opponents fear it could lead to significant legal issues.   Preserve Marriage Washington’s new campaign ads feature the story of  Mary and Jim O’Reilly, who operate the Wildflower Inn in Lyndonville Vermont, a state where a bill similar to SB6239 passed some time ago.

The O’Reilly’s were sued by a female couple who wanted to hold their wedding reception at their facility, they had refused because of their religious beliefs.   The O’Reilly’s were sued, ended up paying over 30 thousand dollars in a settlement, and the court settlement forbids them from holding any more wedding receptions.  The Vermont Fair Housing and Public Accommodations Act prohibits:

public accommodations from denying goods and services based on customers’ sexual orientation.The law applies to inns, restaurants, schools, stores and other businesses that serve the general public. Exceptions are made for religious organizations and small inns with five or fewer rooms.” (the O’Reilly’s facility was larger than five rooms).

Supporters of SB6239 say no one should be denied services or ‘freedoms’ based upon their sexual orientation.  Opponents say that despite the language in SB6239 that would exempt religious organizations or groups (see above) from performing marriages,  the language does not protect people such as the O’Reilly’s.   In New Jersey, a recent court case involved a Methodist-owned and operated beachfront property known as the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association.  A state judge ruled in January of this year the facility violated state non-discrimination laws by refusing to host a lesbian couples civil union ceremony. The judge ruled the facility must be made available or the Association would lose it’s tax-exempt status.

The supporters of the couple argued the laws prohibited such discrimination for any reason,  those supporting the Association said because it was a religious organization and facility it should be allowed to refuse for faith reasons.

Regardless of how the vote goes on R-74, it has generated more discussion and opinions than any recent ballot measure-even the recent dissolving of the WA State Liquor Control system.    Make sure to carefully read your voters pamphlet and brush up on all of the ballot measures this year, and make sure to have your ballot postmarked no later than  November 6th.

 

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