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Gay rights referendum fails to qualify for ballot

06:28 PM PDT on Tuesday, June 6, 2006
King 5 News
Associated Press

OLYMPIA, Wash. -- Initiative activist Tim Eyman and other foes of Washington state's new gay civil rights law failed to submit enough voter signatures Tuesday to force a public vote this fall.

Eyman, appearing at the state elections division just minutes before closing time Tuesday, said he and allies had collected 105,103 signatures. That's fewer than the 112,440 bare minimum and considerably less than the 130,000 that is suggested in order to cover duplicate or invalid signatures.

The announcement marked one of the few times that Eyman has failed to qualify a measure for the ballot -- and particularly one with as much seeming appeal to social and religious conservatives.

"It was obviously an extremely challenging issue," Eyman said. "We went into it with our eyes wide open. But we did feel it was very important for the voters to have the final say on the issue."

Conservative churches had lined up to help Eyman's effort and held "Referendum Sundays" in a push for signatures.

Gary Randall, president of the Faith and Freedom Network, estimated his group collected between 30,000 and 40,000 Referendum 65 signatures.

"It's hard for me to reconcile the number I heard with the effort I saw across the state," he said.

Randall said that the conservative religious community would still try to repeal the law, but was discussing what options remained.

"It'll be much harder now," he said.

Many liberal churches had joined a coalition of gay-rights backers who planned to run a vigorous campaign to uphold the Legislature's new law.

With the referendum deadline past, the measure takes effect on Wednesday, banning discrimination against gays and lesbians in housing, employment, insurance and credit.

"The failure of Eyman and the fundamentalist networks to collect enough signatures after three months of trying is a credit to the people of Washington state," Anne Levinson, chairwoman of the Washington Won't Discriminate Campaign, the group leading the fight to keep the anti-discrimination law, said in a statement.

"Washingtonians made it clear they do not want to go back to the days when it was legal in our state to fire someone or deny them housing simply because of their sexual orientation."

Campaign director John Vezina said the news means that "thousands of people will be able to go to work in towns across Washington without fear of being fired because of their sexual orientation."

Gov. Chris Gregoire said that Wednesday "will be a proud day in Washington."

"In January, Washington took an affirmative stand to say to gay and lesbian individuals, moms and dads, sons and daughters, neighbors, co-workers and friends that, like all other people, they are free to work in an environment absent discrimination," she said in written remarks. "Tomorrow our words become law."



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