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Saturday, May 18, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Group That Fought Gay Rights Still Cries Privacy

(CN) - The 137,000 individuals who signed a petition challenging a domestic partnership law will face reprisal if Washington state makes their names public, a group that advocates for "traditional marriage" said in its appeal to the 9th Circuit.

U.S. Judge Benjamin Settle last week lifted the lid on the names of those who signed Referendum 71, and whose identities were previously kept secret.

R-71 was a failed attempt to quash a 2009 Washington law that granted domestic partners the same rights as married couples. Voters approved the law 53-47 percent.

In June 2010, the Supreme Court ruled 8-1 that the state could go public with the names of the signers. On remand, it was left to Judge Settle to decide the narrower question of whether or not the signers were entitled to an exception under the state's Public Record Act.

After Settle's ruling, Protect Marriage Washington, as well as two anonymous plaintiffs and witnesses who signed the petition, asked the federal appeals court for an injunction under the First Amendment.

"PMW are likely to succeed on their claim that Washington's Public Record Act is unconstitutional as applied to R-71 petition signers because PMW have shown that there is a reasonable probability of threats, harassments, and reprisals," the group's 15-page motion states. "PMW submitted substantial evidence showing that a reasonable person would conclude that if he speaks up about traditional marriage in Washington, he risks facing a reasonable probability of threats, harassment, or reprisals and, therefore, his speech is chilled."

The group blasts Settle for denying the exemption and says it "produced 'substantial evidence'" to support its belief that signers will face harassment.

"The District Court required PMW to prove that the signers of the R-71 petition were themselves subject to harassment," the group wrote. "Of course, this is to require an impossibility since, prior to the order, the petitions had never been released to the public, so that the public did not know who to target for harassment."

Without an injunction, traditional marriage advocates face irreparable injury as "there would be no way to undo the catastrophic damage that would be caused by allowing the state to continue to release the names," PMW added.

It also argued that exposure puts its constitutional rights are "at stake," and that "preserving those rights is in the public interest."

PMW wants the court to redact the names, pending the appeal. It also sought an injunction in Settle's court, with a hearing scheduled for early November.

Secretary of State Sam Reed and Public Records Officer Brenda Galarza are named as defendants. Their office did not respond to requests for comment.

PMW and its attorney James Bopp did not immediately respond to emailed requests for a statement.

Secretary of State Sam Reed told Courthouse News that he was "optimistic" the appeals court would affirm Settle's ruling.

"Judge Settle said PMW has not presented compelling evidence that release of the documents would endanger or harass signers, and that is our view as well as Protect Marriage Washington pursues its as-applied challenge," Reed said.

"We have already released more than 30 sets of the R-71 petitions, divulging the names of the 137,000 Washington voters who signed the petitions back in 2009, without any sign of trouble," he added. "Donors to Protect Marriage Washington's R-71 campaign also have been posted on the Public Disclosure Commission website for two years, again without incident. We suspended release of petitions on Friday after the emergency motion was filed, but we are optimistic we will prevail in the appeal and resume release."

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