June 24th, 2010
Within the past few years there has been a push to publicize the names of those who sign anti-gay petitions. This does not sit well with anti-gay activists who count on anonymity to collect signatures and get propositions on ballots.
People are less likely to add their name if they think that their neighbor, the lady who bags their groceries, or the guy who mows their law will know that they did so. It is far easier to harm those around you if can do so secretly.
So when the state of Washington was ready to release the names of the signatories for Referndum 71, a petition to block domestic partnership rights, anti-gay activists sued. They claimed that they have a first amendment right to free speech and that they have the right to make this speech anonymously. The state countered that they need transparency in elections and that those who seek to legislate laws must be visible and accountable.
Much of the argument on the part of anti-gays was that the identities of those who signed the petition must be kept secret to shield them from the ookie-spookie gays who are hostile and violent. They claimed that they might lose customers if those customers learned that they wanted to deny them equality or that they might face disapproval from neighbors or others who learned of their efforts to enshrine discrimination.
It now appears, however, that the US Supreme Court did not find that argument convincing. (SeattlePI)
The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the names of people who signed petitions in an attempt to overturn a new gay rights law in Washington must be made public, a victory for state officials who said the case was a test of open government laws.
So soon the names will be available. Use them responsibly and with restraint.
Update (Jim Burroway): If I read the decision correctly (PDF: 383KB/67 pages), it looks like the Supreme Court only ruled on whether the requirement for disclosure violates the first amendment:
But the question before the Court at this stage of the litigation is whether disclosure of referendum petitions in general violates the First Amendment. Faced with the State’s unrebutted arguments that only modest burdens attend thedisclosure of a typical petition, plaintiffs’ broad challenge to the PRA (the Washington Public Records Act) must be rejected. But upholding the PRA against a broad-based challenge does not foreclose success on plaintiffs’ narrower challenge inCount II, which is pending before the District Court.
According to the Supreme Court Opinion, “Count II of the complaint alleges that ‘[t]he Public Records Act is unconstitutional as applied to the Referendum 71 petition because there is a reasonable probability that the signatories of the Referendum 71 petition will be subjected to threats,harassment, and reprisals.'” That challenge appears to still be working its way through the lower courts.
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Prologue: Why I Went To “Love Won Out”
Part 1: What’s Love Got To Do With It?
Part 2: Parents Struggle With “No Exceptions”
Part 3: A Whole New Dialect
Part 4: It Depends On How The Meaning of the Word "Change" Changes
Part 5: A Candid Explanation For "Change"
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