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Wednesday, June 7, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Measure repealing gay rights won't be on ballot

Seattle Times Olympia bureau

OLYMPIA — Washington's law banning discrimination against gays and lesbians appears safe, at least for now. The law goes into effect today.

Tim Eyman on Tuesday failed to turn in enough signatures to qualify Referendum 65 for the November ballot. The measure would have repealed legislation approved earlier this year that added sexual orientation to a state law that bans discrimination based on race, gender, religion and other categories.

State law required the campaign to turn in 112,440 signatures of registered voters by 5 p.m. Tuesday to qualify for the ballot. Eyman said they had collected 105,103 signatures. Ballot-measure supporters generally need to collect 25 to 30 percent more signatures than required to make sure they have enough to qualify.

Eyman dramatically added up signature tallies on the steps of the Secretary of State's office and announced the results.

"Getting that many signatures is an enormously positive accomplishment," he said, pouring cups of sparkling cider to celebrate. "Obviously we fell short, but we said we'd push to the end."

Gary Randall, president of the Faith and Freedom Network, a Christian organization that helped collect signatures, wasn't ready to party. Randall said he wasn't happy with the way Eyman handled the campaign, calling his antics "embarrassing."

Eyman showed up at a news conference on Monday dressed as Darth Vader to promote his ballot measures.

Randall said the fight wasn't over. His group plans to attack the issue again without Eyman, possibly with an initiative to the Legislature. That would require nearly 225,000 signatures to be turned in 10 days before the start of the next Legislative session in January.

"We feel pretty deeply about this," Randall said. If they don't do an initiative this year, a campaign will be launched next year, he said.

If an initiative to the Legislature gets enough signatures, lawmakers can take one of three actions: adopt it as written; place it on the next general-election ballot; or pass an amended version and let voters choose between it and the original initiative.

Anne Levinson, campaign chairwoman of the Referendum 65 opposition group, Washington Won't Discriminate, said "the failure of Eyman and the fundamentalists to collect enough signatures after three months of trying is a credit to the people of Washington state.

"Washingtonians made it clear they do not want to go back to the days when it was legal in our state to fire someone or deny them housing simply because of their sexual orientation," she said.

State Rep. Ed Murray, who led the effort to pass the state gay-rights law, was heartened by Tuesday's news. But he said he knows the fight to preserve the law is not over.

"As with many other rights issues, it's going to require constant vigilance on the part of the gay and lesbian community — almost a constant campaign," said Murray, D-Seattle.

Eyman blamed the lack of signatures on the nature of Referendum 65. "It's just a really controversial topic and it's a really a challenge to get people to go out and get signatures," he said.

Eyman's political-action committee, Let the Voters Decide, raised about $4,000 in cash contributions — not nearly enough money to hire paid signature gatherers.

The campaign was largely waged by a coalition of conservative religious groups that organized a grassroots effort to gather signatures at churches and rallies throughout the state.

"We put out 30,000 to 40,000 petition forms. And these weren't just blanketed out in mass mailings to people who would say 'What is this?' These are people and groups who requested them," Randall said.

The Rev. Joseph Fuiten, chairman of the Faith and Freedom Network, said Referendum 65's failure does not indicate most people support the gay-rights law.

The lack of signatures, Fuiten said, tells him that "Tim Eyman has a knack for messing stuff up. He's kind of an interloper on this whole thing, in my opinion. Part of the deal is resistance to him."

Fuiten said, "It's not a question of lack of support. It's really a question of organization and getting the work done."

Andrew Garber: 360-943-9882 or agarber@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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