More than 40 members of the Washington State Bar Association have signed a letter asking the organization’s board of governors to publicly revoke its endorsement of Referendum 74, the statewide same-sex marriage ballot measure, saying such support violates the organization’s bylaws.
In an Oct. 17 letter, the 42 attorneys also demanded the organization refund or allow future deduction of the portion of their dues attributable to activities in support of Ref. 74. Many state attorneys, it said, “oppose same-sex marriage and therefore disagree with, dissent from and object to” the board’s position on Ref. 74.
Bellevue attorney Chris Evans, who wrote the letter on behalf of the others, called the board’s endorsement “mission creep.”
In September, the board passed a resolution supporting Ref. 74, and in a subsequent letter to its more than 29,000 members explained the decision was based on several principles, including the understanding that equal access to the rights and responsibilities of civil marriage is a matter of justice.
Debra Carnes, spokeswoman for the bar association, said the organization has received several emails from attorneys who object to or support the bar’s position. She said there’s a process for members to file a petition if they want to affect any policy enacted by the board.
The attorneys who signed the letter cited the 1990 case of Keller v State Bar of California, in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that attorneys who are required to be members of a state bar association have a First Amendment right to refrain from subsidizing the organization’s political or ideological activities.
Under Keller, they say, the bar is not allowed to engage in activities that are “of a political or ideological nature that are not necessarily or reasonably related to regulating the legal profession or improving the quality of legal services to the public.” Ref. 74, they argue, falls within that category.
In a letter responding to the members, the board’s president said the organization has consistently found that issues like Ref. 74 do affect the practice of law and the administration of justice. It said Keller does not prohibit the bar from taking positions on any issue, but rather forbids it from using mandatory member fees to support such positions. It offered the attorneys the option of deducting from their dues an amount ranging from 98 cents to $6.40.