OLYMPIA — Opponents of same-sex marriage in Washington turned in petitions bearing more than 200,000 signatures Wednesday, stalling implementation of the law and likely triggering a decisive public vote in November.
The signatures now will be verified by the Secretary of State's office, and provided that at least 120,577 signatures are valid, the issue will appear on the Nov. 6 ballot as Referendum 74. Voters will be asked to vote "yes" to uphold the new law legalizing same-sex marriage or "no" to overturn it. If approved, the law will go into effect Dec. 6.
The number of Southwest Washington signatures is not yet available, but DiAnna Brannan, director of grass roots for the petitioners, Preserve Marriage Washington, said she was amazed at the number of signatures collected.
She said while the core group of Clark County volunteers only numbered about 20, they were very well-organized.
"Their number one reason (for volunteering) was they're pro-marriage," she said. "They believe that having a mom and a dad is best for children, and that the marriage institution stabilizes society."
Brannan said the Vancouver group started organizing before Gov. Chris Gregoire signed the law legalizing gay marriage, and went to malls, parades and even door-to-
door to get signatures to put the referendum on the ballot. Some of the organizing meetings here drew as many as 150 people, she said.
"This team did an outstanding job," she said.
However, a Vancouver pastor said he found Clark County very supportive of marriage equality.
The Rev. Brooks Berndt of First Congregational United Church of Christ led a march to Olympia in February to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the church's vote to become an "Open and Affirming" congregation that welcomed gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals and families.
In response to Referendum 74, Berndt has ordered 50 yard signs that read, "My church supports marriage equality." The signs will be distributed to members this week, he said, and other churches have expressed interest in the signs as well.
Berndt said though his congregation was one of the first to show support of gay marriage, Lutherans and Episcopalians also largely support marriage equality.
"With this vote, you're going to see a sign of how the tide has changed," he said. "I think we're moving in the direction of progress, and I've really felt like that's been the case in Vancouver and Clark County."
The chairman of Preserve Marriage Washington, Joseph Backholm, said legalizing gay marriage is not an issue of legal rights, but of maintaining the institution of marriage as it was meant to be. Since the passage of the "Everything but Marriage" law in 2009, those in domestic partnerships have enjoyed the same rights as married couples, including insurance, health and pension benefits.
And legalizing gay marriage wouldn't bring full equality to marriage, because of other state laws in place, Backholm said.
He said there are four restrictions on marriage in Washington: A person cannot marry a relative; someone who is already married; a person younger than 18 (without the consent of a parent or guardian); or someone of the same sex. Legalizing same-sex marriage would set a bad precedent that could lead to a change in the other restrictions on marriage, he said.
"We have to think more than five minutes down the road when we deal with these issues," he said.
Anna Marum: 360-754-5427; Twitter: @col_Olympia.