The Washington Legislature's passage today of Senate Bill 5688, the revised domestic partnership act - revisions that provide same-sex couples virtually all of the legal status of marriage except that formal description - was not close, though it was partisan, splitting pretty much along party lines. And the aftermath is as predictable: A push for a referendum, to try to overturn the law at the ballot box.
The core national analysis has been that public attitudes on same-sex marriage have been shifting, in increments, gradually becoming more accepting of them. The question mark seems to be the timetable. Oregon gay-rights activists seem to have mapped that transition carefully, deciding to pass on 2010 for an attempt to overturn the 2004 constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Their thinking clearly is that a little more time is likely to improve their odds of success, and they're probably right.
However, the Washington referendum - which will have to content itself with settling for complaining about specific provisions, rather than an up-or-down on "gay marriage" - is likely to do two other things, whatever the results (and assuming the proponents succeed in getting it to the ballot, which may not be a foregone conclusion).
First, it effectively inoculates the legislators who voted for it. If the referendum to kill the new law fails, that means the legislators were on the popular side, If it does kill the new law, the beast is dead anyway and no one will care next year.
Second, it will provide a new, reasonably clear measure of how people are feeling about this now.
Where will that go? The Slog today quotes one referendum organizer as saying, “We are taking a statewide poll this week. We’ll make the poll public when we get it, unless it’s so ugly that I don’t want to tell anybody.”
That they're holding out that possibility may have some significance.