Three days after the 2012 general election Washington became the ninth state to achieve marriage equality for same sex couples. Referendum 74, a measure allowing voters to approve or reject legislatively-approved equality, is headed to passage with over 52% of the vote. With the matter decided, same sex couples in the state can begin applying for marriage licenses on December 6, and weddings can begin on the 9th after the mandatory waiting period.
Although about a quarter of ballots in the state remain to be counted, opponents have conceded their loss and supporters have issued statements celebrating their victory. This completes a historic sweep for equality measures with voters in Maine and Maryland both approving similar measures by similar margins and Minnesota becoming the first state to reject a constitutional ban on same sex marriage at the ballot box.
Washington United for Marriage, the advocacy group that pushed for equality in the state, declared victory mid-day Wednesday, calculating that the trend in ballots had become insurmountable for opponents. Campaign manager Zach Silk issued the following statement:
This is an historic day for Washington, an historic day for our country and, most of all, for families across the state who have dreamed of this day. From the beginning, this campaign told the stories of loving couples and their families who simply want to get married. All of us, from our volunteers, to our staff to the nearly 20,000 donors who invested in the freedom to marry, are enormously grateful to the voters of Washington State. Yes, we made history, but more importantly, we helped protect and defend thousands of families across the state.
Despite their confidence, news outlets and officials considered the vote too close to call. This included the Seattle Times, which had endorsed the measure and provided discount advertising to Washington United’s campaign. As further results trickled in, however, the mathematical conclusion became inevitable. The counties with the largest number of uncounted ballots largely supported R74 by margins exceeding its current lead. This includes Seattle’s King County, which is passing the referendum 2-to-1.
As a result, Preserve Marriage Washington — the organization which referred the matter to the ballot — has conceded that they cannot win. Their chairman, Joseph Blackholm, issued the following statement:
With added results showing that we have not closed the gap, it now appears clear that Referendum 74 will be narrowly approved. We are disappointed in losing a tough election battle on marriage by a narrow margin.
Washington’s retiring governor, Christine Gregoire, made pushing for marriage equality part of her legacy. She worked closely with legislators to get the matter passed in February. Preserve Marriage Washington promptly began a campaign to refer the matter to November’s ballot and succeeded in getting enough signatures to do so. The state went through a similar process three years ago when legislatively-approved domestic partnerships were referred to voters, winning 53-to-47.
Vote counting in Washington is slower than in most states because of its election laws and processes. Voters can cast their ballots by mail; the ballot envelopes are subject to precise security measures including comparing signatures to those on file. Neighboring Oregon was the pioneer in vote by mail and requires that ballots be delivered by 8:00 pm on election day. Washington, however, only requires that ballots be postmarked by election day, creating an added delay.