Whitman students campaign for Washington’s Referendum 71

With the November election approaching, some Whitman students are working hard to educate the campus about Referendum 71.

“I’ve just been pushing the word to anyone who’s interested,” said senior Kelli Kuhlman, co-president of the Whitman Civil Liberties Union.

R71 would extend the same benefits that married couples have in the state of Washington to registered domestic partnerships. Kuhlman says that not all domestic partnerships are same-sex: people can qualify if one member of a partnership is a senior age 62 or over. For her, supporting R71 is an issue of equality.

“I really believe that everyone should have the same rights,” Kuhlman said. “The ACLU’s all for equal protections and approving R71 would continue that.”

Referendum 71 was originally Senate Bill 5688, which was passed by the state legislature and signed by Governor Christine Gregoire on May 18. However, citizens opposed to the bill gathered enough signatures to place it as a referendum on the November ballot, allowing the voters of Washington to decide whether the law should stand.

For Kulhman, the main issue has been making sure students know about the referendum.

“Because it’s not an election year, people aren’t as active in voting,” she said. “The biggest group that we need to have vote is the young people.”

To make sure Washington voters are aware of R71, the WCLU set up a table in Reid for a week during lunch and talked to students about the importance of voting. They’ve also helped people register to vote in Washington.

Kuhlman says they’ve made efforts to involve Walla Walla University and Walla Walla Community College through the Network for Young Walla Walla.

But if the students for R71 are so active, where are the dissenting voices? Senior Alex Potter speculates that conservative students are afraid to speak up.

“I doubt a conservative at Whitman would openly discuss this issue because it’s kind of a death wish to oppose gay marriage on this campus,” he said.

First-year Nick Marquiss says he opposes the bill because it fails to truly address the issue.

“I think it’s kind of a sham to cover up equal rights and marriage,” he said. However, he has no plans to campaign against it.

“I’ll vote against it, but that’s it,” Marquiss said.

Students have had mixed success trying to talk to their peers about the issue.

“A lot of the people I know aren’t voters in Washington,” said first-year Matt Morriss. “We can talk about it but we can’t do anything about it. I feel sort of helpless in that regard.”

Morriss is a member of both the Coalition Against Homophobia and GLBTQ but says neither group has talked to its members about R71.

“They haven’t really brought it up in meetings, which I think is really weird, because we have Washington residents,” he said.

Kulhman says many Whitman students seem to be aware of the issue.

“They know what R71 is or at least have heard of it,” she said.

For voters in the state of Washington, absentee ballots will be mailed out on October 14, 2009. Kulhman hopes that enough voters will turn out and vote for the referendum.

“It’s really up in the air right now,” Kulhman said.




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