It looks like marriage equality advocates in Washington have been doing their homework. For the 6th year running, the number of pro-equality voters in Washington state has increased.

Washington offers full domestic partnerships to same-sex couples and to elder heterosexual couples, but a 1998 law limits civil marriage to heterosexual couples in the state.

The Washington Poll just released the results (PDF) from their annual fall poll of voters on questions including this one:

Q: Which of the following statements best describes your views on the issue of same-sex marriage?

  • Gay and lesbian couples should have the same legal right to marry as straight couples 43%
  • Gay and lesbian couples should be able to have the same legal rights as straight couples but it should not be called marriage 22%
  • There should be domestic partnerships that give gay and lesbian couples only some of the benefits and protections of marriage 15%
  • There should be no legal recognition of gay and lesbian couples 17%
  • Don’t know 3%
  • State legislative leaders have been indicating that 2012 may be the year to bring a marriage equality bill up for a vote. Apparently in response, Washington Poll asked this timely question and got a very encouraging response:

    Next year the legislature could pass a law allowing gay and lesbian couples to get married. If that happens, there could be a referendum in which voters would be asked to approve or reject the law. If such a referendum were held today:

    Would you vote YES — that is, to keep a law in place allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry OR would you vote NO, against the law — to make it so that gay and lesbian couples could not marry?

  • Yes – keep law in place – strongly 47%
  • Yes – keep the law in place – not strong 8%
  • No – against the law – not strong 7%
  • No – against the law – strongly 31%
  • Undecided 7%
  • Grouping the “yes” and “no” responses together, 55% of Washington voters would defend a marriage equality law at the polls if it went to a referendum. Only 38% would vote against marriage equality. That result is almost identical to the September, 2011 result from the Strategies 360 poll of likely voters which posed the question more harshly, asking “Do you think it should be legal or illegal for gay and lesbian couples to get married?” 54% answered “legal” and 35% answered “illegal”.

    Of course we all know that if a marriage equality law passes in Washington, National Organization for Marriage (NOM) will swoop into the state and drop a load of scare ads on mothers of young children. This will cause some voters to backslide on their previous commitment to equality. But you can counter the NOM effect if you immunize friends, family and co-workers now through conversations about why marriage equality is important to you and to your children.

    And it really must be now, since we cannot change voters’ attitudes on marriage equality during the course of a referendum campaign. The key to beating NOM is to have those conversations now and not put them off until crunch time.