Court Approves Fair and Accurate Language for Ballot Title on Marriage Equality Law Referendum

News Release: 
Tuesday, March 13, 2012
A Thurston County Superior Court judge today approved ballot title language for Referendum 74, a measure that asks voters to approve or reject the law permitting civil marriage for same-sex couples passed by the 2012 Legislature.  
“We are pleased that the court has provided a fair and accurate title for Referendum 74.  The language approved by the court rightly says that the marriage law is about the right of same-sex couples to marry legally and that the law preserves religious freedom,” said ACLU of Washington executive director Kathleen Taylor.
The ACLU of Washington and Legal Voice represented the League of Women Voters of Washington and Parents, Families, and Friends of Gays and Lesbians (PFLAG) Washington State Council in a court challenge to the state Attorney General’s proposed ballot title for R-74. 
The petitioners were concerned that the proposed language was misleading and prejudicial, especially in saying that the new law would “redefine marriage.” Under the new law, the definition of civil marriage itself will remain unchanged, but the rights and responsibilities of marriage will now be available to same-sex couples. The term “redefine marriage” is widely used as a sound bite by groups opposed to marriage for same-sex couples.
In addition, the plaintiffs sought language making clear to voters that the marriage law protects religious liberty and that no clergy or religious organizations will be forced to change their views or practices with regard to marriages they perform or recognize.
“The language proposed by the Attorney General was confusing and misleading. Now the ballot title for R-74 enables citizens to know clearly what their vote will mean,” said the ACLU-WA’s Kathleen Taylor.
Litigating the ballot title challenge for the ACLU and Legal Voice were cooperating attorneys Paul Lawrence, Matthew Segal, Jessica Skelton, and Sarah Johnson of the Pacifica Law Group.
The referendum will be on the November ballot if sponsors get sufficient signatures by June 7.
The Court today approved the following ballot language for R-74.
Statement of subject: The legislature passed engrossed substitute senate bill 6239 concerning marriage for same-sex couples, modified domestic-partnership law, and religious freedom, and voters have filed a sufficient referendum petition on this bill.
Concise description: This bill would allow same-sex couples to marry, preserve domestic partnerships for seniors, and preserve the right of clergy or religious organizations to refuse to perform, recognize, or accommodate any marriage ceremony.
Summary: 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 partnerships 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.
The ballot title proposed by the Attorney General read:
“The legislature passed Engrossed Substitute Senate Bill 6239 concerning marriage and voters have filed a sufficient referendum petition on this bill. This bill would redefine marriage to allow same-sex couples to marry, modify existing domestic-partnership laws, allow clergy to refuse to solemnize or recognize marriages and religious organizations to refuse to accommodate marriage celebrations.”
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