The Fight Over Same-Sex Marriage Referendum's Wording

Opponents and supporters of same-sex marriage are fighting over the phrasing of a single paragraph in the war of words to win over voters in the fall when a referendum on gay marriage comes to a head. The paragraph summarizes Referendum 74, which puts to a public vote the gay marriage bill Gov. Chris Gregoire tearfully signed earlier this month. Why in the world would the phrasing of a simple summary be so important?

Because both sides believe the wording chosen could make or break the referendum, because it will get top billing in voters' mailboxes across the state inside the Election Guide this fall. So many voters apparently decide solely on what they read in the guide that both sides believe a little tweaking now could change the outcome of the election.

The phrasing is a touchy topic because so much effort goes into writing an unbiased explanation. State Attorney General Rob McKenna has the final say on the phrasing of the referendum. Right now this is what he has proposed:

This bill would redefine marriage to allow same-sex couples to marry, apply marriage eligibility requirements without regard to gender and specify that laws using gender-specific terms like 'husband' and 'wife' include same-sex spouses.

Same-sex marriage supporters are not satisfied with that summary. This is what they have offered:

This bill would permit marriage for same-sex couples, protect religious freedom by ensuring clergy and religious organizations are not required to perform marriages or accommodate marriage celebrations, and preserve domestic partnerships for seniors.

That "redefine marriage" phrase is the linchpin of this fight. The same-sex marriage opponents National Organization for Marriage say extensive and repeated polling show "redefine marriage" is their most effective message 'Gays and Lesbians have a right to live as they choose, they don't have the right to redefine marriage for all of us.' On the other side, supporters filed a lawsuit Monday saying McKenna's language is "unnecessarily confusing, focuses on superfluous rather than essential elements, and again uses potentially prejudicial terms."

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