Marriage equality opponents vow rematch over public disclosure case

Posted by Lisa Keen on

"In a ruling hailed by gay activists, the U.S. Supreme Court on June 24 upheld a law that requires public disclosure of the names of people who signed a petition to put an anti-gay referendum on the ballot in Washington State. But litigation over the domestic partnership battle may not yet be finished and may be back before the court in a year or so.

"The 8 to 1 decision, with only Justice Clarence Thomas in dissent, said a state law requiring the names and addresses of petition signers be available to the public does not violate the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

"Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the decision—a bit of a surprise given that his questions during oral argument seemed to indicate he would be inclined to rule in favor of the plaintiffs. However, in the opinion, Roberts suggested plaintiffs could do better by limiting their challenge to the state law’s impact in the Referendum 71.

"James Bopp, who represented Protect Marriage Washington, said Thursday plaintiffs 'absolutely' intend to pursue that route.

"The case, Doe v. Reed, questioned the constitutionality of Washington’s Public Record Act (PRA).

"Protect Marriage Washington and two 'John Doe' plaintiffs brought the lawsuit on behalf of citizens who signed a petition to put Referendum 71 on the ballot in 2009. The defendant was Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed, a coalition that supported the state’s new domestic partnership law, and a group that sought to preserve openness in government.

"Referendum 71 sought to repeal the domestic partnership law that had been recently approved by the legislature. And Protect Marriage said the public disclosure of the names of people signing the petition to put it on the ballot had a chilling effect on their freedom of speech. According to Protect Marriage, the law enabled persons who disagreed with petition-signers to target them for harassment and threats.

... "Chief Justice Roberts said that the state law furthered the state’s interest in preserving the 'integrity of the electoral process' and that this is sufficient justification for it. He said the law helps prevent fraud, mitigates mistakes, and promotes “transparency and accountability in the electoral process.”

"Anne Levinson, chairman of the pro-gay Washington Families Standing Together group, applauded the result, calling it 'a significant defeat for those who have sought to enshrine discrimination into law at the ballot box.'

“'Perhaps no other group has witnessed its rights put up for public vote more than LGBT Americans,' said Levinson. 'Social conservatives have used ballot measures in state after state, over more than 30 years, to keep LGBT Americans from being able to adopt children, to marry and even to be protected from discrimination in housing and employment.'

... "Lambda’s Legal Director Jon Davidson, who was the principal author of the gay groups’ brief, said he thought the majority struck an important balance.

“'It’s good the court reaffirmed a high test here,' said Davidson. 'You can’t, as a blanket matter, bar the disclosure of the petitions. But if you’re trying to bar [disclosure], you have to show a reasonable probability of harassment –not just a possibility, but a probability.'

"Davidson said the ruling is 'incredibly important to our community, given the number of measures that have gone on ballots to block gay people’s rights.'

“'We have been the target of more initiatives to do that than any other group in the history of initiatives,' said Davidson, 'so it’s important for us to be able to see if measures are properly qualified.'

“'The real thing going on here,' said Davidson, 'has been an attempt by right-wing groups to take away our rights secretly.'"



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