Feb. 1, 2006 – Highlighting the growing national rift between religious extremists and rights groups, the Washington State Senate last week passed a bill protecting gay, lesbian and transgendered people from discrimination. Even before the bill was signed into law, a prominent ballot-initiative-financier began an effort to repeal it.
Last Friday, the Washington State Senate narrowly approved a measure adding sexual orientation to the list of groups protected from discrimination on the part of employers and public servants. The bill bans discrimination in housing, employment, insurance and other areas under state jurisdiction. Governor Chris Gregoire signed the bill yesterday, making Washington the seventeenth state to host a law explicitly prohibiting acts of prejudice against homosexuals and other-gendered people.
But, even as queer-rights groups were announcing and celebrating their triumph, state anti-tax activist Tim Eyman filed papers starting the process of legally opposing the changes. Eymanâ€™s protest took the form of a referendum and a ballot initiative, both filed Monday. They would effectively repeal the new protections afforded under the bill.
Reportedly, Eyman sent an e-mail statement to area reporters announcing his action and accusing state politicians of caving to "special interest group pressure and their own reelection calculations" in passing the measure. "The voters have watched this disgusting display of arrogance and selfishness for weeks," he added.
In a statement Sunday, Equal Rights Washington Executive Director Fran Dunaway said gay rights groups are ready for Eymanâ€™s challenge and noted that her organization and its allies "anticipated [their] opponents would go to any length to see that discrimination continues in Washington."
Rights groups had waged a nearly 30-year-long fight to secure legal protection for queer people in the state. "We will do what we need to in order to protect equal rights," said Dunaway. "We are mobilized, we are motivated and we are ready. We won on Friday and we will win again in November."
Eymanâ€™s action gives opponents of gay and transgender rights two chances to undo the legislation this fall. In order to qualify for the ballot, they must gather 112,440 signatures on the referendum by March 9. Signatures supporting the initiative do not have to be filed until July 7, but must be twice as many.
Just one Republican voted in favor of the bill. Two Democratic lawmakers joined the Republicans in opposing the measure.