Officials in Washington state on Monday released copies of signature petitions that forced a ballot initiative seeking to overturn the state’s domestic partnership rights, just hours after a federal judge rejected the notion that disclosure of names would subject petition signers to threats or harassment.
The release of the petitions — showing the 138,000 signatures for Referendum 71 — came despite an attorney’s vow to appeal the ruling and seek temporary protection from the disclosure of names.
In his ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Benjamin Settle in Tacoma said there was insufficient evidence of likely danger to R-71 signers to carve out an exception to state public records law that would shield the names of people who signed it.
In a strongly worded, 34-page ruling, Settle said every citizen should be concerned that advocating for traditional marriage, as Protect Marriage does, engenders such hostility in this state.
Yet, if Protect Marriage could get around the Public Records Act “by simply providing a few isolated incidents of profane or indecent statements, gestures, or other examples of uncomfortable conversations, … disclosure would become the exception instead of the rule,” the judge said.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that release of the signatures does not violate constitutional rights, but the justices allowed advocates to prove that the release would put signers in danger.
Washington’s Republican secretary of state Sam Reed says he’s pleased that open government prevailed.
“If somebody wants to change the laws in the State of Washington, they really ought to do it in the public square,” Reed said. “Do it publicly, just like legislators do who sponsor legislation.”
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.
Protect Marriage Washington is an affiliate of the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage.
Two websites run by gay rights activists say they plan to post the names of the referendum petition signers online, in a searchable format.