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AdWatch: Ad against R-74 raises fear of lawsuits

Associated Press Modified: October 23, 2012 at 7:32 pm •  Published: October 23, 2012
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OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — TITLE: "Examples"

LENGTH: 30 seconds.

AIRING: The ad started airing statewide Tuesday on broadcast and cable channels.

SCRIPT: Announcer: "Experience shows how Referendum 74 can harm people who oppose gay marriage."

Jim O'Reilly, owner of the Wildflower Inn in Lyndonville, Vt., with wife Mary seated beside him: "A lesbian couple sued us for not supporting their gay wedding because of our Christian beliefs. We had to pay $30,000 and can no longer host any weddings at our inn."

Damian Goddard, former host on Rogers Sportsnet: "I was a national sportscaster in Canada. When a sports agent spoke out in favor of traditional marriage, I sent a personal tweet that I agreed with him. The next day I was fired."

Announcer: "Don't redefine marriage. Reject R-74."

KEY IMAGES: The ad begins with an image of Goddard with the word "fired" superimposed over him, and a picture of the O'Reillys, with the word "sued" superimposed over their photo.

ANALYSIS: The TV ad, the second from Preserve Marriage Washington, which opposes the state's gay marriage law, implies that the threat of being sued or fired will increase in Washington state if gay marriage is approved by voters next month.

Referendum 74 asks voters to either approve or reject the state's gay marriage law. The case of the O'Reillys has been highlighted in other TV ads in places where gay marriage is on the ballot, including Maine.

Supporters of Referendum 74 argue that the O'Reillys were sued because they violated Vermont's anti-discrimination laws, and that it had nothing to do with marriage.

"There's already strong anti-discrimination laws in Washington state, as there are in Vermont," said Zach Silk, spokesman for Washington United for Marriage. "Regardless of what happens with Referendum 74, these anti-discrimination laws remain on the books. It has nothing to do with marriage."

Washington state's anti-discrimination laws were expanded in 2006 to include sexual orientation, and also cover the use of accommodations or facilities.

Two New York women sued the Wildflower Inn last year, saying it violated the state's anti-discrimination in public accommodations statutes by refusing to host their wedding reception because they're gay.

The O'Reillys settled the lawsuit in August by agreeing to pay a $10,000 civil penalty to the Vermont Human Rights Commission, to place $20,000 in a charitable trust and to no longer host any weddings or receptions. A lawyer for the innkeepers said at the time of the settlement that a former employee falsely claimed that the inn wouldn't allow a same-sex reception, and that the inn's business practice was to "to honestly disclose its owners' religious convictions to potential customers while agreeing to serve everyone in accordance with the law."

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