A Washington judge has refused to block a statewide referendum on whether gay couples should be given expanded rights under domestic partnerships.

The law, known as the ‘Everything but marriage’ measure, was due to come into power in June but was put on hold due to the referendum campaign, known as R-71.

If the state’s voters approve it, it will give gay couples all the rights afforded to heterosexual couples, such as adoption and child support rights.

Currently, the law provides gay couples with only some of the benefits given to straight married couples. Almost 6,000 domestic partnerships have been filed since 2007, which the law was passed.

After religious and conservative opponents announced they had collected enough signatures to get the issue on the November ballot, pro-gay rights group Washington Families Standing Together (WAFST), launched a legal challenge, claiming signatures had not been gathered correctly.

According to the group, secretary of state Sam Reed had not followed petition rules and accepted thousands of petitions that should have been rejected. Some of these were said to lack the details of the petition gatherer.

However, Thurston County Superior Court Judge Thomas McPhee yesterday rejected the claims. Although a previous attempt to block R-71 was turned down in King County last week for technical reasons, Judge Julie Spector admitted she was concerned Reed had accepted invalid petitions.

Sponsors of R-71 are fighting to keep the petitions secret. Although they are recognised as public documents and may be viewed by anyone, opponents believe that those who do not support equal gay rights may be targeted with harassment. A lawsuit to protect the petitions is currently underway and is expected to be ruled on this week.

As with Proposition 8, the initiative which banned gay marriage in California, the November 3rd referendum is likely to reignite the debate on whether voters should be allowed to decide on human rights issues.