Voters as victims: a right-wing sleight of hand

As posted by Bret Evans and Jeff Krehely for the Center for American Progress:

"The fight for marriage rights for gay couples will reach the United States Supreme Court in April 2010—sort of. The Court will hear arguments challenging Washington state’s Public Records Act, which was broadly approved by a voter initiative in 1972 as part of a campaign to increase transparency and openness in the state’s government and elections. The law, among other things, instructs the state to release names of people who sign petitions to place an issue up for a public vote. Protect Marriage Washington, the main plaintiff in the case, claims that publishing the names of petitioners violates privacy and is a threat to free political speech. It asserts that releasing the names of petitioners will subject the signatories to harassment, injury, or property damage, which, they claim, would deter future political participation.

"The case tracks back to Referendum 71, which was approved by Washington state voters in November 2009 and grants same-sex (and older opposite-sex) domestic partners virtually all of the same rights that straight married couples receive from the state. PMW, which opposes marriage rights for gay couples and placed the referendum on the ballot, moved to block release of the names of people who signed a petition to put the referendum up for a vote. The United States District Court in Washington issued a restraining order on release of the names, a ruling that the state appealed. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the lower court’s ruling and ordered the names released. The U.S. Supreme Court quickly ruled to maintain the lower court’s order preventing the release of petitioner names, and also announced that it would hear the case in April of this year.

"PMW claims in a brief filed with the U.S. Supreme Court that they were motivated to bring the case forward after the Proposition 8 fight in California in 2008. California treats the names of people who donate to groups involved with ballot initiatives and referenda as public information. Incidents of violence and harassment that targeted individuals on both sides of the debate were reported during and after the Proposition 8 campaign. PMW claims that some of those individuals were targeted because their names were on the donor lists the state disclosed, which is why they are trying to keep the identities of their petitioners secret.

"PMW’s case and its related claims call for an examination of how widespread instances or threats of intimidation, violence, and harassment against opponents to marriage equality are. It is especially important to put the crimes that marriage equality opponents faced into context—in this case, by comparing them to the number of hate crimes the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender population faces on a regular basis. The PMW case also provides an opportunity to step back and consider why marriage equality opponents are using this diversion strategy to advance and defend their position.

"To paraphrase Evan Wolfson, the executive director of Freedom to Marry, which supports marriage rights for gay couples, there are three ways to win a legal fight: argue the law, argue the facts, or make a fuss. Marriage equality opponents are clearly being forced to choose the latter option."

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