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Washington (State)

Supreme Court won’t block release of signatures on anti-gay petitions

Tuesday, November 22, 2011
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WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to block release of names of those who signed petitions favoring Washington State’s Referendum 71, the unsuccessful 2009 ballot initiative to overturn the state’s “everything but marriage” rights for same-sex domestic partners.

The legal challenge was brought by the anti-gay group Protect Marriage Washington, an affiliate of the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage (NOM). The group had argued that release of the petitions would put signers at risk for harassment.

“This means we can once again release these public records,” said Katie Blinn, co-director of state elections in the office of Secretary of State Sam Reed.

According to Seattle PI, the case — Doe v. Reed — has traversed through federal court system in an seemingly endless round of rulings and challenges. The Supreme Court had stated in an earlier 8-1 decision, that signatures on initiative petitions should be a matter of public record.

The Supremes sent the case back to U.S. District Court Judge Benjamin Settle in Tacoma. Settle has ruled that sponsors of the anti-gay measure did not prove that they have been harassed — or would face harassment — if named on the Ref. 71 petitions were released.

Several plaintiffs seeking to block release of the names — e.g. Rev. Ken Hutcherson, Faith and Freedom leader Gary Randall and State Sen. Val Stevens — are longtime public leaders and advocates in opposition to marriage equality.

The group Protect Marriage Washington had asked that release of names be blocked until the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals hears an appeal of Judge Settle’s ruling. Settle, the 9th Circuit and the Supreme Court have now rejected the group’s request.

Secretary of State Reed is a longtime advocate for releasing the names. He has argued that signing an initiative petition is equivalent to a lawmaker sponsoring legislation. He has pointed out that, with one exception, all states with initiative and referendum laws provide for the release of signatures.

Reed received an eloquent boost in an opinion by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in the court’s earlier ruling.

“There are laws against threats and intimidation; and harsh criticism, short of unlawful action, is the price our people have traditionally been willing to pay for self-governance. Requiring people to stand up in public for their political acts fosters civic courage, without which democracy is doomed.”

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that release of the signatures does not violate constitutional rights, but the justices allowed advocates to pursue their case and prove that releasing signatures would put signers in danger.

Referendum 71 asked voters to approve or reject the state’s domestic partnership law, which granted registered domestic partners additional state rights previously given only to married couples. It was approved with 53 percent of the vote.

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