The distinction of being the first state in the nation to approve equality for same-sex couples was supposed to go to the live-and-let-live state of Maine. Instead, it will belong to Washington.
Maine voters repealed that state’s same-sex marriage law by 53 percent to 47 percent this week, handing gay rights supporters a big defeat.
There, but for the grace of King County, would have followed Referendum 71.
As of Thursday afternoon, R-71 had a 50,000-vote lead. It was failing in all but 10 Western Washington counties, with the biggest margin in King County. There, yes votes were more than double the no votes, creating a 100,000-vote spread.
Backers such as this editorial board would like to think that R-71’s passage speaks well of Washingtonians’ sense of fairness and their support for equal rights. It probably does to some extent, but the bigger factor in the election was R-71 opponents’ failure to mount anything resembling a viable campaign.
Opponents of the state’s “everything but marriage” law spent considerable effort getting a referendum on the ballot to give voters a chance to reject the law. They succeeded, only to then cede the fight by failing to recognize the importance of undecided voters.
Supporters of traditional marriage couched their pitch in conservative Christian ideology and then spent the campaign talking only amongst themselves. R-71 might have failed had its critics offered persuadable voters practical arguments that didn’t depend on religious doctrine.
Perhaps trying to run a campaign while also fighting public disclosure and campaign finance battles proved too distracting. Perhaps they were just outmaneuvered by the better organized and politically savvy gay rights camp.
Whatever it was, gay rights supporters should not take comfort in believing that they won this fight. The other side lost it.
State Sen. Ed Murray, the Seattle Democrat who sponsored the law, said Wednesday that the closeness of the race showed that “we still have a lot of work to do.” Indeed.