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Seattle parishes can gather signatures for marriage referendum

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SEATTLE — Now that the Easter triduum has passed, parishes in the Archdiocese of Seattle are free to participate in gathering signatures for a referendum challenging a Washington state law that legalized same-sex marriage.

Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain, who testified against the measure when it was still under consideration by the Legislature, had asked parishes not to collect signatures on Palm Sunday or Easter Sunday.

The archbishop sent a letter to parishes March 30 clarifying his opposition to changing the legal definition of marriage and his approval of signature gathering in parishes for Referendum 74, which gives voters the option to reject the measure passed in February by the state Legislature and signed by Gov. Chris Gregoire, a Catholic.

Opponents of legalizing same-sex marriage have until June 6 to gather 121,577 signatures to suspend the law until the public makes a decision about it on Election Day in November. Otherwise the law takes effect June 7.

While voters in five states will decide the fate of ballot measures dealing with marriage in 2012, Washington is one of only two states where a public vote will determine whether same-sex marriage is legalized. The other state is Maryland, where in February lawmakers passed a bill to legalize such marriages and in March it was signed by Gov. Martin O’Malley, who also is a Catholic.

The Maryland law will go into effect in January 2013 unless voters reject it in November. To put a referendum to repeal it on the ballot, its opponents must gather nearly 56,000 signatures.

New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire and Washington, D.C., allow same-sex marriages. Along with Washington state and Maryland, California also has a same-sex marriage law that has not taken effect because of legal challenges.

Unless voters decide otherwise in the fall, Washington and Maryland would become the seventh and eighth states to legalize same-sex marriage.

“Because we believe that this issue is critically important, we support Referendum 74 and have approved the gathering of signatures in our parishes over the next few months,” Archbishop Sartain said in his letter.

Other states with marriage measures on the ballot in 2012 include North Carolina, Minnesota and Maine. In North Carolina marriage between same-sex couples is already illegal. Supporters of a May ballot measure are seeking approval for an amendment to the state constitution that would add more protection for traditional marriage by defining marriage between one man and one woman as “the only domestic legal union.”

Minnesota voters will decide in November whether an amendment defining marriage only as the union of a man and woman should be added to the state constitution.

Voters in Maine rolled back a same-sex marriage law by a 53 to 47 percent margin in 2009. Supporters of same-sex marriage in that state have submitted enough signatures to put the measure on the fall ballot.

In Ohio, the state attorney general has certified language for a ballot proposal that would repeal a 2004 constitutional amendment approved by voters statewide that declared marriage to be between one man and one woman. The amendment would modify the Ohio constitution to define marriage as “a union of two consenting adults, regardless of gender.”

Proponents are expected to gather signatures to place it on the ballot there in 2013.