Judge shields signatures in Washington’s gay rights referendum

Judge Benjamin SettleA federal judge on Thursday ordered the state of Washington to continue shielding the identities of people who signed petitions to force a vote on expanded benefits for gay couples.

U.S. District Judge Benjamin Settle (pictured) in Tacoma granted the preliminary injunction involving petitions for Referendum 71 while a related case moves forward on the constitutionality of the state public records act.

The referendum’s sponsor, Protect Marriage Washington, is hoping citizens reject the “everything but marriage” law passed by the Legislature earlier this year.

In his ruling, Settle said he was “not persuaded that waiver of one’s fundamental right to anonymous political speech is a prerequisite for participation in Washington’s referendum process.”

The referendum’s sponsors turned in nearly 138,000 petition signatures to qualify for the ballot.

The petitions are considered public records under state law. But R-71’s sponsors say the petition-signers could be harassed, amounting to an infringement on their free speech rights.

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