The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that gay marriage opponents do not have an automatic legal right to prevent public release of the names and addresses of the signers of a Washington state ballot measure favoring traditional marriage, reports Reuters.
The high court’s 8-1 ruling was a defeat for a group called Protect Marriage Washington. It had argued that public disclosure could lead to threats, harassment or reprisal.
More than 138,000 individuals signed a petition in 2009 to put a referendum on the state ballot that would have overturned a new state law extending the benefits of marriage to couples registered as domestic partners. The referendum failed.
According to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the ruling dealt broadly with claims by foes of the new gay rights law that disclosing their names would violate their First Amendment rights.
However the justices said the plaintiffs could go back to a lower court to try to get a specific exemption on other grounds – and the chief lawyer for people who signed the Referendum 71 petitions said he would do so.
Protect Marriage Washington asked justices to shield the names of the 138,000 people who signed R-71 petitions in hopes of overturning the “everything but marriage” same-sex domestic partner law.
But in a victory for gay rights supporters, voters approved R-71, which extended to gay couples more than 200 additional rights currently reserved for married spouses, including ensuring extended work leave for people with critically ill partners and preserving pension benefits for the surviving partner in the event of the other’s death.
Gay rights groups have threatened to post the petition signers’ names online, causing opponents to fear harassment or threats if their names are revealed.
Only Justice Clarence Thomas dissented from the court’s opinion.