OLYMPIA—Saying the passage of a gay civil rights bill was an example of the arrogance of lawmakers, initiative promoter Tim Eyman has filed two ballot measures, seeking to put the issue before the state's voters.
Eyman's referendum would give voters the option of voting down the measure that adds "sexual orientation" to a state law that bans discrimination in housing, employment, insurance and credit. The amendment to current law, passed out of the Legislature last week, makes Washington the 17th state passing such laws covering gays and lesbians, and the seventh to protect transgender people.
Gov. Chris Gregoire was expected to sign the bill. It would take effect in June, 90 days after the end of session, but if Eyman is able to get enough signatures by the June deadline, the law will be frozen until a November vote.
Eyman also is pushing an initiative that would, in addition to removing "sexual orientation" from the law, prohibit state government from requiring quotas or other preferential treatment for any person or group "based on sexual orientation or sexual preference."
"Should this decision be made in Olympia, or should it be made by the people?" Eyman asked at a news conference Monday at the secretary of state's office. "The voters want to have the final say."
To get the referendum on the November ballot, Eyman will need to collect 112,440 valid voter signatures by June 7. An initiative requires double the amount of signatures, nearly 225,000, by July 7.
The Rev. Joseph Fuiten, a Bothell pastor who is chair of Faith & Freedom Network, an organization that opposed the bill, said he wasn't sure the referendum was the best way to go.
"I'm not opposed to it, but I'm not in favor of it," he said. "I'm not entirely certain it's the best strategy."
Fuiten, who said he's working with a team of pastors and other community leaders, said he wants to wait and see how the state Supreme Court rules on gay marriage — a decision expected any week now — before deciding how to move forward.
Gregoire said Monday that she would speak out against any attempt to overturn the law.
"It's just unbelievable to me that we would now turn our backs and say it's OK to discriminate. It's just wrong in my opinion," she said.
But Eyman cited a previous gay rights initiative that voters rejected in 1997 as proof that lawmakers were out of touch with their constituents.
"At the end of the day, it should be the citizens and not the politicians having a chance to decide this issue," he said.
The measure passed the Senate last Friday on a 25-23 vote, a major victory for gay rights activists who have watched the measure fail in the Legislature for nearly 30 years.
Fran Dunaway, executive director of Equal Rights Washington, said a statewide coalition of groups would actively campaign against the initiative and referendum.
"The vast majority of people in Washington state support this legislation," she said. "The simple truth of it is they don't want to see their friends, family or neighbors fired or denied housing simply because of who they are."
Eyman also cited the voters' passage of Initiative 200 in 1998, which barred government preferences for women and minorities in education, hiring and contracting as indicative of the will of the people. He said the initiative adding sexual orientation to that law is needed to pre-empt any future actions that lawmakers may try to take.
But Rep. Ed Murray, sponsor of the gay civil rights bill and one of four openly gay lawmakers in the Legislature, said that affirmative action and laws banning discrimination are not the same thing.
Eyman's "confusing two issues that are not related," he said.
Murray, D-Seattle, said he did not think the rights of minorities should be open to a vote, but remained hopeful that if the measures made it to the ballot, voters would echo the lawmakers' decision.
"Moderate voters are not going to turn down the right of gay and lesbian people to have equal rights," he said.
— The Associated Press