Proponents of same-sex marriage have introduced an initiative that would put a whole new twist on traditional unions between men and women: It would require heterosexual couples to have kids within three years or else have their marriages annulled.
Initiative 957 was filed by the Washington Defense of Marriage Alliance, which was formed last summer after the state Supreme Court upheld Washington's ban on same-sex marriage. In that 5-4 ruling, the court found that state lawmakers were justified in passing the 1998 Defense of Marriage Act, which restricts marriage to unions between a man and woman.
Under I-957, marriage would be limited to men and women who are able to have children. Couples would be required to prove they can have children to get a marriage license, and if they did not have children within three years, their marriages would be subject to annulment.
All other marriages would be defined as "unrecognized" and people in them would be ineligible to receive any marriage benefits.
"Absurd? Very," the group says on its Web site, which adds it is planning two more initiatives involving marriage and procreation. "But there is a rational basis for this absurdity. By floating the initiatives, we hope to prompt discussion about the many misguided assumptions" underlying the Supreme Court's ruling.
Gregory Gadow, who filed I-957 last month, said the three-year timeframe was arbitrary.
"We did toy with the idea of (requiring) procreation before marriage," he said. "We didn't want to piss off the fundamentalists too much."
Gadow said that if the group's initiatives were passed, the Supreme Court would be forced to strike them down as unconstitutional, which he believes would weaken the original ruling upholding the Defense of Marriage Act.
But he said he highly doubts any of the initiatives will pass, and that they are being done "in the spirit of political street theater."
"Our intention is not to actually put this into law," he said. "All we want is to get this on the ballot and cause people to talk about it."
The group's Web site gives another reason: "And at the very least, it should be good fun to see the social conservatives who have long screamed that marriage exists for the sole purpose of procreation be forced to choke on their own rhetoric."
Cheryl Haskins, executive director of Allies for Marriage & Children, agreed with Gadow's group on at least one point about the initiative: "It's absurd," she said.
Haskins said opponents of same-sex marriage "have never said that the sole purpose of marriage is procreation."
"When we talk about defending the institution of marriage, we're talking about the union of a man and a woman," she said. "Some of those unions produce children and some of them don't."
With I-957, "you're dictating people's choices in a way that is utterly ridiculous," she said.
However, Gadow noted that the Supreme Court's majority decision specifically mentioned procreation throughout.
The opinion written by Justice Barbara Madsen concluded that "limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples furthers the state's interests in procreation and encouraging families with a mother and father and children biologically related to both."
Gadow said the argument is unfair when you're dealing with same-sex couples who are unable to have children together.
"What we are trying to do is display the discrimination that is at the heart of last year's ruling," he said.
Even the Legislature's most prominent proponent of same-sex marriage, Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, said he thought the initiative was misguided. While the "absurdity" of the Supreme Court decision should be discussed, that discussion needs to take place in the Legislature, he said.
"I don't think the initiative process should be used to determine the rights and protections of marriage," he said.
Murray, one of five openly gay lawmakers in the Legislature, is sponsoring a measure that would create domestic partnerships for same-sex couples and another to allow same-sex marriage. The domestic partnership measure has passed out of committee and a vote on the Senate floor could come within weeks.
The sponsor of the same-sex marriage measure in the House, Rep. Jamie Pedersen, said he supported the effort "to draw attention to the hypocrisy of some of those who oppose marriage equality" but opposed the initiative.
"For the same reason I don't think same-sex couples should be excluded from marriage, I don't think heterosexual married couples should be forced to procreate," said Pedersen, D-Seattle.
Supporters of I-957 must gather at least 224,800 valid signatures by July 6 to put it on the November ballot.
The measure's backers said the two additional initiatives they plan would prohibit divorce or separation when a married couple has children, and would make having a child together the equivalent of marriage.
Gadow said he hopes to raise $300,000 to spend on advertising on the first initiative.