American Foundation for Equal Rights

Marriage News Blog

Battleground State Profile: Washington

In a four-part series, we look at the history of efforts in each state with a marriage ballot measure, current polling and how you can get involved.

Today, the billionaire founder of Jeff Bezos and his wife, MacKenzie, pledged to donate $2.5 million to help pass a marriage equality initiative in Washington State. Here’s a run-down of efforts to secure the freedom to marry in the Evergreen State.

A Long Time Coming

Washington was one of the first states to encounter the marriage equality issue, although they certainly wouldn’t have called it that back then.

In 1971, activists Paul Barwick and John Singer (who would later take the name Faygele ben Miriam) requested a marriage license from King County Auditor Lloyd Hara. Hara turned them down because he had to, although nowadays he’s the King County Assessor and a steadfast supporter of the freedom to marry.

Skipping ahead 27 years, the Washington State Legislature passed a statutory marriage ban in 1998. In 2004, eight couples sued King County and 11 couples sued the state over the law. Their cases were consolidated, and in 2006, the Washington State Supreme Court upheld the law, 5-4 in Andersen v. King County.

LGBT families found an ally the following year in Governor Christine Gregoire, who signed a limited domestic partnership law in 2007. It was expanded in 2008, and again in 2009. That 2009 bill was forced to referendum, which became known as Ref. 71, and passed with 53% of the vote.

But domestic partnership is not marriage. In 2011, State Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown suggested in an interview that Washington “could be ready for full marriage equality.” But State Senator Ed Murray said that the votes weren’t in place yet. Later that year, LGBT organizers announced a campaign for a marriage equality bill in 2012.

Gregoire wasted no time, introducing the legislation in January of 2012. On February 1, 2012, the Senate passed a bill to legalize marriage by a 28-21 vote. It passed the house a few days later, 55-43, and Gregoire signed the bill on February 13.

But now the bill faces a referendum. If passed, marriage equality would come to the Evergreen State. On July 27, Amazon Founder Jeff Bezo and his wife MacKenzie pledged $2.5 million to help the initiative.

Current Polling

It’s going to be close in Washington, with poll numbers wavering back and forth a bit. In September of 2011, 54% supported marriage equality. In October, support was at 55%. But a February 2012 survey showed support down to 50%, and then 51% in June. The latest June survey shows marriage equality leading by 51% to 42%.

What You Can Do

Washington United for Marriage is leading the effort to protect the new law.

  1.  Pledge to approve Referendum 74 in November.
  2. Volunteer with the campaign.
  3. Fundraise for the campaign.
  4. Start a conversation with your friends and colleagues about why you support marriage equality.
  5.  Share the campaign with your friends & family by liking us on Facebook or sending them to our website.