The effort to place a gay-inclusive domestic partnership law up for a vote in Washington State appears to be falling short.

With a looming deadline of Saturday at 2PM, opponents of the law dubbed by the media as the “everything but marriage law” have only 4 full days left to gather thousands of valid signatures.

Opponents – a coalition of mostly religious groups – announced their attempt to repeal the bill in November, even before it became law in May. Gary Randall, president of the Faith and Freedom Network, says his group filed Referendum 71 because the law is too close to marriage and violates the law.

“The bill … elevates homosexual relationships to that of traditional marriage, thus eliminating any legal difference between domestic partnerships and marriage,” Randall wrote in a blog entry posted on the group's website before the bill became law.

“I do not believe a majority [of] Washingtonians believe in homosexual marriage, nor do they want to become a national attraction for homosexuals from other states and countries,” he added.

Organizers, however, admit that they have fallen desperately behind in collecting the 120,577 valid signatures needed to qualify the measure. Randall told the conservative group Concerned Women for America that only 75,000 signatures had been collected as of Friday. Leaving the group at least 45,577 signatures short. But in order to ensure there are sufficient valid signatures, the group estimates it needs to collect 75,000 signatures. In other words, opponents need to collect as many signatures in one week as they did in the previous seven to eight weeks.

The Democratic-controlled House passed the bill in April along a mostly party-line vote of 62 to 35. Senators approved the bill in March with a 30 to 18 vote, and Governor Chris Gregoire signed the bill into law on May 18.

The law, sponsored by openly gay Seattle Democrats Senator Ed Murray and Rep. Jamie Pedersen, expands existing domestic partnership legislation to grant gay and lesbian couples all the rights and benefits that the state offers married heterosexual couples. The federal government, however, does not recognize gay unions or marriages.

Washington State banned gay marriage in 1998 and the Washington State Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the law in 2006.

Several opponents of gay marriage argued in May that the fight against domestic partnerships was unwinable and urged social conservatives to organize for the imminent gay marriage battle ahead.

“Why fight a battle you can't win? It will cause you to lose a war you can win,” Joseph Fuiten, a Bothell pastor who is the leader of Positive Christian Agenda, told Seattle's The News Tribune. “It will undermine our position when it comes to fighting the marriage battle.”

If the measure qualifies for the ballot, the law would be delayed until after the results of the November election are known. The law is set to take effect on Sunday.

Meanwhile, gay rights groups say the referendum threat has accelerated the growth of pro-gay marriage groups in Washington State. And the group announced it would publish the names of signers to the petition on the Internet should it qualify. (Similar postings have proven controversial in other states, including California, Arkansas and Massachusetts).