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September 11, 2009


Maine and Washington anti-gay issues head to ballot

Olympia, Wash.--While laws granting couples’ rights in two states are facing likely battles at the ballot boxes in November, pro-equality forces are fighting back through elections offices and the courts.

In Washington, a domestic partner law expansion that grants all of the state rights of marriage, without the name, to same-sex couples is being challenged by a referendum.

A judge on September 8 dismissed a suit by Washington Families Standing Together, the pro-domestic partnership organization. The group said that Secretary of State Sam Reed’s office accepted thousands of signatures that were on petition forms improperly signed by signature gatherers, or that signers were not registered to vote at the time they signed because many filled out registration cards at the same time.

It was not clear at press time if Washington Families would appeal. The deadline was September 10, when voter guides had to be printed and ballot information sent to county election boards.

Thurston County Judge Thomas McPhee ruled September 8 that there is no law requiring the secretary of state to reject signatures on petitions not signed by the gatherer. McPhee also ruled that there is no requirement that someone be registered to vote before they sign.

He said they simply had to be on voter rolls by the time the signatures were checked.

Another issue is whether to allow marriage foes to keep the names on the petitions hidden, which goes against state disclosure laws.

Backers of Referendum 71, which puts the domestic partner expansion to voters, got a temporary injunction keeping the petitions from being made public, saying that signers would face harassment and threats, a violation of their First Amendment rights.

A pro-gay group has pledged to put all the names on a web site as soon as they become public.

U.S. District Judge Benjamin Settle issued a restraining order against releasing the names while he mulls the situation, and he was also expected to decide by September 10.

‘Money laundering’ in Maine

While those battles were raging in the Northwest, supporters of Maine’s law providing full marriage for same-sex couples charge that opponents are laundering money through conservative organizations to bypass state disclosure laws.

Californians Against Hate filed a complaint against Stand for Marriage Maine, which showed all but $400 coming from the National Organization for Marriage, the Portland Catholic diocese and the Knights of Columbus. That means that around $343,000 was donated by the organizations, and the origin of that money has not been revealed to elections officials.

Fred Karger, the head of Californians Against Hate, referred to it as “money laundering” and the executive director of the Maine Commission of Governmental Ethics and Election Practices sent a 65-page letter to the heads of the National Organization for Marriage and Stand for Marriage Maine, asking for background on whether his office should launch an investigation on the groups.

“It is illegal for a [political action committee] to knowingly accept a contribution made by one person in the name of another,” he wrote.

The ethics commission will hold a hearing on October 1 to decide whether it will pursue an investigation.

The Catholic diocese, however, is making it relatively clear that they are collecting money from parishioners directly for the campaign.

The bishop asked churches in his diocese to take up a second collection to support Stand for Marriage Maine next week. The group is holding a rally on September 13, and tickets are only available through area churches.




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