A Washington state voter initiative that sought to restrict marriage to a partnership between a man and a woman has failed to gain enough signatures to get on the ballot, eliminating any risk of confusion with another competing measure.
Opponents of gay marriage in Washington state had pursued two separate signature-gathering drives after Governor Chris Gregoire, a Democrat, signed into law in February a measure to allow same-sex marriage.
A referendum to repeal that law has already qualified for the November election. In a potentially confusing set-up, the referendum would have voters check "no" to repeal the law while the initiative would have asked voters to vote "yes" to limit marriage to opposite-sex partners.
Initiative 1192, headed by attorney Stephen Pidgeon and his group Protect Marriage Washington, would have created a statute restricting marriage to between one man and one woman.
"We are woefully short, not just a little bit short," Pidgeon told Reuters on Tuesday. He added his group received about 105,000 signatures but needed 241,000 by the state's deadline of Friday.
By contrast, the backers of the repeal referendum, Preserve Marriage Washington, had submitted 247,331 signatures on June 6 to qualify it for the ballot.
"The truth is there was a competing measure ... and the referendum, let's just say they were very hot in their competition and even though we supported their effort they did not support ours," Pidgeon said.
Six states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex marriage. Nationally, several polls have found more Americans support same-sex marriage than oppose it, in a shift in attitude that began to be seen two years ago after decades of opposition to the idea in public opinion.
But gay marriage has so far been rejected in states where the question has been put directly to voters. A survey released last month by Public Policy Polling found 51 percent of Washington state voters supported gay marriage.
Zach Silk, a spokesman for Washington United for Marriage, which supports gay marriage, welcomed the failure of the initiative.
"We are glad that it will be a less confusing ballot for voters," he said.
Washington United for Marriage revealed on Monday it had received a $100,000 contribution from Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and another donation of $100,000 from the company's CEO Steve Ballmer. The political group has raised $1.9 million to date, public records show.
Preserve Marriage Washington has raised $132,000, and Pidgeon's group Protect Marriage Washington has officially reported $13,600 in contributions.
(Reporting By Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Cynthia Osterman)