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WA Anti-Gays to Remain Anonymous

This commentary is the opinion of the author and may not reflect the opinions of other authors at Box Turtle Bulletin.

Timothy Kincaid

September 11th, 2009

“There, I guess King George can read that!” declared John Hancock signing in a large firm script and thereby attaching his name, reputation, and fortune to the risky venture of independence.

It’s likely that Hancock made no such declaration. But the myth has become part of our national identity, less of an anecdote and more of a mindset. We Americans like those who stand behind their convictions, those who think that if you believe in something that you have to be willing to put your name on the line, to be willing to risk something for your principles.

We don’t have much respect for those who want the privilege of their position, but are unwilling to risk anything. We don’t like back-room dealers, vigilantes who hide their identity under a sheet, or politicians who say one thing and do another. Our laws demand that an accused be allowed to confront his accuser in court face to face. Our political process requires that votes by legislators – and even debate – be public so that we can see who stands where. If you want to make the decisions, you need to be accountable for them.

In short, we don’t like sneaks.

But in Washington, the anti-gays are sneaks. They managed to scrape together enough signatures (with the help of the Secretary of State) to qualify the anti-gay Referendum 71 for the ballot. But they don’t want to be accountable for those signatures. They want to deny gay people basic rights… but they want to do it on the sly.

The supporters of Referendum 71 have sued to force the State of Washington to hide the names of the signatories, to keep their identities secret. And a federal judge has agreed. (Seattle Times)

A federal judge has continued to keep private the names and addresses of those who signed Referendum 71, saying they likely are protected under the First Amendment and that the state failed to prove a compelling public interest in their release.

U.S. District Judge Benjamin Settle in Tacoma granted a preliminary injunction today, blocking the state from making the petitions public.

Now the First Amendment of the Constitution of which I am aware says:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

And “the people” in Washington have petitioned, which is their right. But this judge thinks that they are entitled to do so anonymously. And I think that this is a most dangerous interpretation.

This sets a precedent for other petitions and other appeals to government. It opens the door for special interests of all sorts to change laws and propose initiatives under a cloak of secrecy, denying the citizenry even the basic knowledge of who is behind such efforts.

And it does not stop with petitions. If the First Amendment protects identity for petitions, what else does it protect? If, indeed, petitions can be without scrutiny, if the subjects of such petitions can be denied knowledge of the petitioners, what else in the First Amendment is also protected by the shield of anonymity?

Is the press allowed a veil of anonymity? Will the courts deny the victim of a libelous attack knowledge about who owns, operates, or writes for the paper that defamed him?

Is peaceful assembly now a masked mob?

Perhaps this judge is familiar with a First Amendment of which I am unaware. But if so, I’m sure it is one that is attached to a constitution that would be foreign to our founders who, like John Hancock, were willing to risk life, freedom, and property to loudly and largely put their names on their revolution.

Comments

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Mel
September 11th, 2009 | LINK

Pssst, John Hancock’s famous signature is on the Declaration of Independence, not the Constitution.

Chris McCoy
September 11th, 2009 | LINK

I hope this gets appealed to the 9th Circuit.

John
September 11th, 2009 | LINK

Wouldn’t it be nice to check and see that the signature gatherers didn’t illegally put your name, address and signature on a petition you did not support.

I think that would be a very good reason to make the names public.

Timothy Kincaid
September 11th, 2009 | LINK

oh poo, poo, poo

Thanks Mel.

For others, the last paragraph originally read as:

Perhaps this judge is familiar with a First Amendment of which I am unaware. But if so, I’m sure it is one that is attached to a constitution that was not largely and boldly signed by John Hancock.

I was all caught up in bringing my point whole circle that I missed a simple fact. sigh

Lindoro Almaviva
September 11th, 2009 | LINK

Well, that is only 1 judge’s opinion. What are they doing to reverse that? Has any announcements been made about appeals and the such?

Maybe with appeals the whole thing can be tied in the courts for a year or so.

Timothy Kincaid
September 11th, 2009 | LINK

Lindoro,

The state is going to appeal.

And we would very much like for this NOT to be tied up. We want to know who signed so that we can have polite and respectful conversations with them and bring them into an understanding of what he proposed law changes would accomplish.

Penguinsaur
September 11th, 2009 | LINK

I notice none of the people who scream “ACTIVIST JUDGE!” when a judge thinks equality is constitutional are the least bit angry about this.
Also, “the state failed to prove a compelling public interest in their release.” and what exactly is the public interest in keeping them secret? And hasn’t every petition had to release the names? Why werent those stopped because “the state failed to prove a compelling public interest in their release.”?

Gina9223
September 11th, 2009 | LINK

What about transparancy? or sunshine laws?

Can I bring a secret ballot measure up and have a secret petition with secret names that aren’t checked for valid voter registration…oh, wait, y’all got that now.

Damn, with the machine working like that you’re kinda screwed.

JudgesRCorrupt
September 11th, 2009 | LINK

Tacoma has a notorious history of corruption from the sheriff, the chief of police, the judges, the city manager and his wife, the local police officers and the list goes on for decades.

Not surprised by the ruling.

Matt
September 11th, 2009 | LINK

Here’s a question I’ll throw out there. Suppose the situation was reversed and people in WA were signing a pro-gay petition and anti-gay forces were trying to force the signatures to become public, possibly with the motive of bringing the pressure of public opinion against people who sign it. Wouldn’t we want such signees to have privacy? If that’s the case, then we’ve got to give it up here.

Burr
September 11th, 2009 | LINK

No Matt. What’s fair is fair. Even if it were the other way around, you have no right to privacy if you’re signing your name to something that is supposed to be of PUBLIC RECORD.

This isn’t a vote. It’s a petition. In order to safeguard the integrity of the process, the names must be there for all to see so that we can all see for ourselves whether they are valid or not.

This is really basic stuff here, and it’s disturbing to see such pervasive idiocy in the judiciary of the state of Washington.

Penguinsaur
September 11th, 2009 | LINK

Wouldn’t we want such signees to have privacy?

I’d gladly let people know I signed a pro-gay petition. I’d be proud to let people know I did that. My position isn’t based on bigotry and ignorance so I don’t feel the need to hide my support or avoid discussion.
And then their the other side to this, how do we know the petition signers even know their on the list? With the honesty your average bigot shows their could be people who had no idea what that petition they signed was for until a friend starts asking why they’re trying to ban their marriage.

Heterosexual Dictatorship « Queer Equality Revolution
September 11th, 2009 | LINK

[…] summed it up very well. ~ An EXCELLENT post on this disturbing matter by Timothy Kincaid is here: WA Anti-Gays to Remain Anonymous ~ My favorite lines: “We don’t like back-room dealers, vigilantes who hide their identity […]

Cole
September 11th, 2009 | LINK

Only now will the state appeal the secrecy because the referendum is already certified and being printed on ballots and gay rights groups won’t challenge the validity of any signature.

APPROVE Referendum 71. Gay couples deserve the exact rights heterosexual couples have.
http://tinyurl.com/poc4h5

Derrick Davis
September 11th, 2009 | LINK

Here is a question I have had. Let’s suppose that the domestic partnership bill is overturned in Washington. Can the state legislature just pass the bill again and the governor sign it? Obviously, it would be unpopular, but is there anything stopping them from passing the law again? What about in Maine?

Eddie89
September 11th, 2009 | LINK

I believe that it’s only banana republic type countries that use secret ballots for their petitions.

Saying something like this:

“Trust us! We are the authorities and we have verified all of the signatures and they are ALL valid! Nothing to see here! Move along!”

And why shouldn’t we “trust” the authorities!?

After all, they are honest, loving, caring, truthful Christians that follow the word of almighty God and would never, ever lie, cheat or steal. Because doing so would cause them to burn in hell for ever!

Oh, unless they are doing so against homosexuals.

Then, it’s OK!

God blesses their Christian Jihad against those vile homosexuals!

For every gay that gets their civil rights denied here on earth, they get 72 Cadillac Escalades in heaven! Each one with a golden Jesus fish on the back bumper!

Richard W. Fitch
September 11th, 2009 | LINK

Escalade?? Hasn’t that been proven to be a very unsafe vehicle? Well, maybe there is some poetic justice to that….

aj
September 11th, 2009 | LINK

I think what makes the ruling even worse, are the WAY the petition drive was done in the first place. While I totally agree that the names should be public (if you don’t want them public, DON’T SIGN), but how so many were (apparently) tricked, lied to or deceived into signing in the first place. There is a youtube video (sorry I don’t have the link), where the signature gatherer was caught lying to people to get them so sign, when caught, he didn’t seem to really care, as long as he got the signatures. I won’t even go into the lies (protect marriage/save children, etc) that has already been mentioned here and on other blogs. I am almost ashamed to live in Washington with a SoS that is willing to ignore Washington state law to appease a few “Family value” types (values that benefit them, not others, of course ;( ).
just my 2 cents

Ty Hand
September 12th, 2009 | LINK

Why didn’t the “Approve Ref. 71″ group hire ‘petition signing blockers ?’ It is perfectly legal in California. Is it here in Washington? If so, that would have cost some money for the different pro-partnership organizations, however, it would be less expensive than what we have to deal with now.

ebohlman
September 17th, 2009 | LINK

From what I can tell, the decision was merely to grant a request for a preliminary injunction, and thus doesn’t set any precedent at all.

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