passage of a Washington State gay civil rights bill is an
example of the arrogance of lawmakers, initiative promoter
Tim Eyman has filed two ballot measures
in seeking to put the issue before the state's voters.
Eyman's referendum would give voters the option
of voting down the measure, which adds sexual
orientation to the list of characteristics covered by
a state law that bans discrimination in housing, employment,
insurance, and credit. The amendment to current law, passed
by the legislature on Friday, makes Washington the
17th state to pass such laws covering gays and
lesbians, and the seventh to protect transgender people.
Gov. Chris Gregoire signed the bill Tuesday. It
will take effect in June, 90 days after the end of the
current legislative session, but if Eyman is able to
obtain enough signatures by the June deadline, the law will
be frozen until a November vote.
Eyman is also pushing an initiative that would
prohibit state government from requiring quotas or
other preferential treatment for any person or group
"based on sexual orientation or sexual preference."
"Should this decision be made in Olympia, or should it be
made by the people?" Eyman asked at a news conference
Monday at the secretary of state's office. "The voters
want to have the final say."
To get the referendum on the November ballot,
Eyman will need to collect 112,440 valid voter
signatures by June 7. An initiative requires double
the number of signatures, nearly 225,000, by July 7.
Joseph Fuiten, a Bothell pastor who is chairman
of Faith and Freedom Network, an organization that
opposed the bill, said he wasn't sure the referendum
was the best way to go. "I'm not opposed to it, but I'm
not in favor of it," he said. "I'm not entirely certain it's
the best strategy."
Fuiten, who said he's working with a team of
pastors and other community leaders, said he wants to
wait to see how the state supreme court rules on
same-sex marriage, a decision expected any week now, before
deciding how to move forward. Gregoire said Monday
that she would speak out against any attempt to
overturn the law. "It's just unbelievable to me that
we would now turn our backs and say it's OK to discriminate.
It's just wrong in my opinion," she said.
But Eyman cited a previous gay rights initiative
that voters rejected in 1997 as proof that lawmakers
were out of touch with their constituents. "At the end
of the day, it should be the citizens and not the
politicians having a chance to decide this issue," he said.
The measure passed the senate last Friday on a
25-23 vote, a major victory for gay rights
activists who have watched the measure fail in the
legislature for nearly 30 years.
Sen. Bill Finkbeiner, a Republican from
Kirkland, was the sole senate Republican to endorse
the measure, a year after it lost by just one vote in
the senate. Two senate Democrats voted against the measure.
One Republican was not present.
Fran Dunaway, executive director of Equal Rights
Washington, said a statewide coalition of groups would
actively campaign against Eyman's initiative and
referendum. "The vast majority of people in Washington
State support this legislation," she said. "The simple truth
of it is, they don't want to see their friends,
family, or neighbors fired or denied housing simply
because of who they are."
Eyman also cited voters' passage of Initiative
200 in 1998, which banned government preferences for
women and minorities in education, hiring, and
contracting as indicative of the will of the people. He said
the initiative adding the sexual orientation
category to that law is needed, to preempt any
future actions that lawmakers may try to take. "The
people do not support preferential treatment because the
people do not want it to be used as a basis for
requiring the legalization of same-sex marriage," the
But Rep. Ed Murray, sponsor of the gay civil
rights bill and one of four openly gay lawmakers in
the legislature, said that affirmative action and laws
banning discrimination are not the same thing. Eyman's
"confusing two issues that are not related," he said.
Murray said he does not think the rights of
minorities should be open to a vote, but he remains
hopeful that if the measures were to make it to the
ballot, voters would echo the lawmakers' decision. "Moderate
voters are not going to turn down the right of gay and
lesbian people to have equal rights," he said. (AP)
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