c. 2012 Religion News Service SPOKANE, Wash. (RNS) Conservatives in Washington state claimed victory this month by collecting double the signatures needed to send the state’s same-sex marriage law to voters in the upcoming general election.
And while leaders from Preserve Marriage Washington are confident residents will vote to keep marriage between a man and a woman, a wild card lies in their path — one that’s worth more than 4 million votes.
According to the 2010 U.S. Religion Census, more than half of the state’s 6.8 million residents don’t belong to a religious group. Preserve Marriage Washington, the organization behind the gay marriage petition (Referendum 74), is a coalition of community and faith groups, including the Washington State Catholic Conference.
“Almost 4.4 million people are unclaimed, so that’s the group, that if they vote, will decide this referendum,” said Patricia O’Connell Killen, editor of “Religion and Public Life in the Pacific Northwest: The None Zone,” and academic vice president at Gonzaga University.
“Any political issue, whether it passes or fails, depends by and large on how the vast majority of these unchurched are persuaded.”
A similar vote to override a gay marriage law in Maryland is also scheduled for November, as well as a proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage in Minnesota. In Maine, voters will be asked whether to overturn a 2009 referendum that banned gay marriage.
Killen said evangelical and Catholic leaders in the state are actively working to overturn the same-sex marriage law, but said it’s impossible to know how much influence they have over the “unchurched.”
Joseph Backholm, chairman of Preserve Marriage Washington, said although churches were active in collecting signatures, there’s no way to know how many of the signatures came from the state’s unaffiliated population.
“I think there’s a collective wisdom about this subject, a common understanding of what marriage is and there’s plenty of unchurched people who look at this passionately and conclude that marriage should between a man and a woman,” he said.