Washington could be making a historical shift in the gay rights movement in today's election if voters pass a measure that would make same-sex marriage legal.
The initiative, Referendum 74, is ahead in the recent surveys, according to a Washington Poll
. About 54 percent of respondents say they will vote for the measure and 38 percent oppose it, with 6 percent undecided.
Washington is one of four states that have same-sex marriage measures on the ballot. Measures in Maine and Maryland would legalize it, while a referendum sent to voters by lawmakers in Minnesota would make same-sex marriage unconstitutional.
“We’re seeing a consistent shift in public opinion,” Andy Grow of Washington United for Marriage says. "It just looks like the arc of history is with us right now.”
R74 would uphold legislation Gov. Chris Gregoire signed into law in February. After it had been signed, opponents of same-sex marriage filed a referendum that stopped the law from going into effect and forced it onto the ballot.
If R74 passes, Grow said that the political climate in the Northwest regarding gay rights might move toward a more inclusive stance. It would give states like Oregon more encouragement to actively pursue marriage equality campaigns.
“It would affect the Northwest because neighbors, we hope in Oregon…will consider this kind of measure in your state,” Grow said.
Supporters of marriage equality in Oregon would face a tougher battle than their counterparts in Washington. Here, voters would have to overturn a constitutional ban against same-sex marriage they passed in 2004.
Jeana Frazzini, executive director of Basic Rights Oregon, says her organization is following the marriage equality debate most closely in Washington and Maine. She says a success in Maine for marriage equality would help provide a model for Oregon advocates to follow.
“Maine is also critical because their process is really similar to Oregon,” Frazzini says.
Maine’s marriage equality referendum has support of 52 percent of voters, compared to 45 percent who oppose it, according to a poll from Public Policy Polling
Nationally, Americans are currently split over same-sex marriage—a recent Pew Research Center
poll shows 46 percent in favor and 44 opposed. But advocates say support is growing.
Washington United for Marriage's Grow says while polls are encouraging, his group is working hard to make sure R74 passes.
“We’re making tens of thousands of calls a day—knocking on thousands of doors,” Grow says. “We’re not sitting on our hands over here. We’re working very hard to get every last vote.”
Frazzini said advocates at Basic Rights Oregon were very hopeful that R74 would pass, but that they would continue to push for gay rights regardless of the outcome.
“Win or lose in Washington state, we’re continuing to move statewide conversations about why marriage equality matters,” Frazzini said.