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Saturday, February 18, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Group to battle Eyman's plan to overturn new gay-rights law

The Associated Press

OLYMPIA — Gay-rights activists and supporters have formed a coalition to fight a ballot campaign to overturn a new gay civil-rights law that that bans discrimination in housing, employment and insurance.

Washington Won't Discriminate was formed in response to two ballot measures seeking to challenge the new law, which was signed by Gov. Christine Gregoire last month. The group established a Web site this week and organizers said they are starting to mobilize support across the state.

Even before Gregoire signed the bill, initiative promoter Tim Eyman announced he would promote two ballot measures.

Eyman argues that for an issue as controversial as gay rights, voters — not lawmakers in Olympia — should get the final say.

"There's going to be a big, healthy debate on it," he said. "When the dust settles and the decision is made, it should be the voters who make the decision on an issue as big as this one."

The gay-rights group's executive committee includes members from groups such as Equal Rights Washington and the Pride Foundation, as well as community leaders from around the state.

"We know it's important to organize quickly and speak strongly and clearly about how wrong it is to put someone else's rights up for a public vote," Anne Levinson, campaign chairwoman, said Friday.

Already signed on as supporters are groups including the Washington Association of Churches and the Anti-Defamation League as well as some businesses.

"The immediate task is to reach out to a broad coalition," said Levinson, the former chairwoman of the state Utilities and Transportation Commission, as well as a one-time judge and former deputy mayor of the City of Seattle. "This is not going to be a Seattle-centric effort. This is a statewide effort."

The measure that passed the Legislature and was signed by Gregoire adds "sexual orientation" to a state law that bans discrimination in housing, employment, insurance and credit. The fight to get the bill into law spanned nearly 30 years.

Washington is the 17th state to adopt such laws covering gays and lesbians, and it is the seventh to protect transgender people.

The law is set to take effect in June, 90 days after the end of the Legislature's session. But if Eyman is able to get enough signatures by the June 7 deadline for a referendum, the law will be frozen until a November vote on whether it should be overturned.

In addition, Eyman is pushing an initiative that would remove "sexual orientation" from the law and prohibit state government from requiring quotas or other preferential treatment for any person or group "based on sexual orientation or sexual preference."

A referendum refers a law passed by the Legislature to a vote of the people. Initiatives are generally used to propose new laws, but have also been used in recent years to overturn the Legislature's actions. 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.

Those opposed to the gay-rights law argue that the measure imposes a set of moral principles on others and that it opens the door to gay marriage.

They have cited a recent case in Maryland, where a judge knocked down the state's ban on same-sex marriage, citing the state's anti-discrimination law.

The Washington state Supreme Court heard arguments on a case challenging Washington's ban on gay marriage last year, and a ruling is expected soon.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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