Wash. gay marriage opponents closer to qualifying R-74

Wash. gay marriage opponents closer to qualifying R-74
FILE - Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire, seated, raises her arms as legislators and supporters cheer behind her after she signed into law a measure that legalizes same-sex marriage Monday, Feb. 13, 2012, in Olympia, Wash. Gregoire handed gay rights advocates in Washington state a major victory with her signature, making it the seventh in the nation to allow gay and lesbian couples to wed. The law takes effect June 7, but opponents are already mounting challenges on multiple fronts. (AP File Photo/Elaine Thompson)

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) - Opponents of gay marriage said Wednesday they have reached the number of signatures needed to qualify a proposed referendum seeking to overturn a new law legalizing same-sex marriage in Washington state, and that they may turn them in as early as next Tuesday.

Joseph Backholm, with Preserve Marriage Washington, said that the campaign for Referendum 74 has at least 150,000 signatures on hand. Backers of R-74 need to turn in 120,577 valid voter signatures by next Wednesday in order to qualify for the ballot. The secretary of state's office recommends that campaigns submit about 150,000 signatures in order to provide a cushion for invalid or duplicate signatures.

"We feel that it's going to be adequate to get it on the ballot," he said. "We're quite confident of that."

Backholm said that the 150,000 signatures were gathered by volunteers. He said that while they did hire professional signature gatherers, the amounts they've collected haven't been added into the overall total yet. Backholm said that his group hopes to hit 200,000 signatures by next week, and that they want to turn the signatures in ahead of a June 6 deadline, possibly as early as Tuesday.

Zach Silk, a spokesman for Washington United for Marriage, a coalition that supports the gay marriage law in Washington state, said he wasn't surprised that Preserve Marriage collected so many signatures.

"We always expected them to reach the number," he said. "We've been preparing our campaign to talk to voters. We believe at the end of the day they'll side with us to uphold the law."

So far, Washington United for Marriage has raised more than $714,000 in their effort to fight back attempts to overturn the law. Preserve Marriage Washington has raised more than $43,000, according to the most recent numbers with the Public Disclosure Commission.

National groups have already promised time and money to the effort, including the Washington, D.C.-based National Organization for Marriage, which was involved in ballot measures that overturned same-sex marriage in California and Maine.

Washington state has had domestic partnership laws since 2007, and in 2009, passed an "everything but marriage" expansion of that law, which was ultimately upheld by voters after a referendum challenge. The Legislature approved gay marriage earlier this year, and Gov. Chris Gregoire signed it in February.

On Wednesday, a poll by a Seattle public affairs and consulting firm, Strategies 360, showed that 54 percent of voters think it should be legal for same-sex couples to get married, though the poll doesn't specifically ask them how they'll vote on R-74. The survey of 500 likely voters was conducted last week, and had a margin of error of 4.4 percent.

Another effort seeking to overturn gay marriage is still ongoing.

Initiative 1192 was filed in January by Everett attorney Stephen Pidgeon, seeking to reaffirm marriage as "between one man and one woman." To qualify for the November ballot, he must submit at least 241,153 signatures of valid registered voters by July 6, a month after the referendum signature deadline. He said Wednesday that he has collected about 75,000. To date, Pidgeon's effort has raised about $6,000.

Gay marriage is legal in New York, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Washington, D.C. Maryland legalized gay marriage this year as well, though opponents there are promising to challenge it with a ballot measure and on Tuesday delivered more than twice the number of signatures required. Activists in Maryland say they submitted 113,000 signatures on petitions on Tuesday — double the 55,736 needed to put the issue on the ballot.
___
Online:
Referendum 74 language: http://bit.ly/Aog5aO
Preserve Marriage Washington: http://preservemarriagewashington.com
Washington United for Marriage: http://washingtonunitedformarriage.org
___
Follow Rachel La Corte on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/RachelAPOly

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.