First, Washington lawmakers chose to pursue an expansion of gay rights in small steps rather than go for the big prize of marriage right away. In the past six years, the Legislature enacted laws banning discrimination based on one’s sexual orientation, enabled same-sex couples to register with the state as domestic partners and expanded the rights and responsibilities for those relationships.
The success of this incremental approach came in 2009 following passage of the so-called “everything but marriage” law which treated domestic partnerships the same as married heterosexual couples under state law with one exception — they could not marry.
Opponents tried to repeal it with Referendum 71 but failed. This was the first time voters anywhere in the country upheld legal recognition for the relationships of same-sex couples.
“We’re in a different place than any other state in the country because we’ve been having that conversation for the better part of a decade,” Silk said. “Opponents have a very good playbook. We’re still the underdogs.”
Second, religious conservatives are dwindling in number and less influential than a few years ago. And Washington is home to a socially moderate strain of Republicans, especially in the vote-rich region of the Puget Sound; a handful of GOP lawmakers backed the new law.
Finally, the question voters might face in November is much different than what’s on the ballot in North Carolina and Minnesota. In those states, the issue is whether to write a ban on same-sex marriage into their state’s constitution.