Referendum 74: The most controversial issue on the ballot

Washington voters face a number of high profile ballot measures this fall, but none is generating the money and controversy as the Referendum over same sex marriage. Millions of dollars are being spent on both sides fighting for your vote.

Ever since the State Legislature approved same sex marriage earlier this year, opponents have been pushing hard to have it overturned. They gathered enough signatures to get it on the ballot and now voters have the final say.

But same sex couples all across the state, helped by many of their allies, eagerly await the day when they’re able to legally wed.

“We are a normal loving couple,” said Jana Simpson, who has been with Nancy Woods for 11 years.  “We just want to be a married couple. I’d like to introduce Nancy as my wife.”

Leaders of Washington United for Marriage have been working hard all year long on behalf of couples like Simpson and Woods

“Anyone that wants to make a lifetime commitment to the one they love, we believe they should have the freedom to marry,” said Zach Silk, campaign manager of the effort to approve Referendum 74.

Opponents, such as Joseph Backholm of Preserve Marriage Washington, argue extending marriage rights to same sex-couples would hurt kids.

“We believe fundamentally the institution of marriage serves the purpose of providing the ideal environment for children,” Backholm said.

Backholm further argues that there’s a slippery slope for society if same sex marriage is approved.

“Why can’t brothers get married," he asked. "Why can’t foursome people get married, because they can say they are loving and committed to each other. If that is the purpose of marriage, then there is no rational reason to deny anyone a marriage license.”

Silk disputes any suggestion that children of gay couples have an inadequate upbringing.

“All reputable social science backs up that the most important thing for kids is to be in a stable household with two adults,” he said.  “The couples we are talking to our stable households with two adults who want to raise kids, and that’s great for kids.”

Backholm argues that the history of marriage supports one man and one woman.

“Moms and dads are not interchangeable because men and women are different and they are not interchangeable,” he said.

Two years ago the State Legislature approved Washington’s so-called “Everything but Marriage” law that gave registered domestic partners all the available rights of marriage couples, except the label.

Opponents of Referendum 74 say that should be enough. Pastor Joseph Fuiten of Cedar Park Church in Bothell argues that when voters are told “that gays have every right of marriage right now, and that we don’t need to change marriage in order for gays to be treated fairly, when you phrase it in that way, support for gay marriage drops to 35%.”

Supporters argue that marriage confers a special status that doesn’t come with domestic partnerships.

“No one dreams of asking someone to domestically partner them,” said Silk. “Marriage is special and it’s really unique and it’s the way that we in our society tell people that we are in loving committed relationship with someone, and we are willing to stay with them forever.”