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Washington Anti-Gay Group Must (Finally) Disclose Referendum 71 Ballot Signatures

Federal judge Benjamin Settle has ruled in Doe v. Reed today that Protect Marriage Washington (PMW) must disclose the citizen signatures it gathered in 2009 when it attempted to reject the state’s “everything but marriage” same-sex domestic partner legislation. PMW claimed that if the signatories of what became known as Referendum 71 were released, they would be subject to “threats and harassment” for opposing the rights of same-sex couples. Settle acknowledged that same-sex marriage is a heated issue, but pointed out that PMW “failed to supply sufficient, competent evidence” that supporters of the measure would face the negative treatment they claimed:

While Plaintiffs have not shown serious and widespread threats, harassment, or reprisals against the signers of R-71, or even that such activity would be reasonably likely to occur upon the publication of their names and contact information, they have developed substantial evidence that the public advocacy of traditional marriage as the exclusive definition of marriage, or the expansion of rights for same sex partners, has engendered hostility in this state, and risen to violence elsewhere, against some who have engaged in that advocacy. This should concern every citizen and deserves the full attention of law enforcement when the line gets crossed and an advocate becomes the victim of a crime or is subject to a genuine threat of violence. The right of individuals to speak openly and associate with others who share common views without justified fear of harm is at the very foundation of preserving a free and open society.

The facts before the Court in this case, however, do not rise to the level of demonstrating that a reasonable probability of threats, harassment, or reprisals exists as to the signers of R-71, now nearly two years after R-71 was submitted to the voters in Washington State.

Settle originally ruled for PMW, saying that it did not have to release the signatures because a petition should not compromise a citizen’s right to anonymous speech. Then, in June of 2010 the Supreme Court ruled that referendum petitions do not trump state open government laws, but left room for unique exceptions, sending Doe v. Reed back to the lower court for additional consideration. Settle has now essentially reversed his original position, but in doing so ensured that petitioners cannot advance referenda without public scrutiny and accountability.

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PMW is affiliated with the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), a group that has been trying to circumvent campaign disclosure laws in several states as it opposes marriage equality, including Rhode Island, Maine, and now Minnesota. Today’s decision represents the latest setback for organizations trying to avoid public scrutiny as they advance anti-gay discriminatory legislation.