The U.S. Supreme Court has ordered the names and addresses of Ref. 71 petitions signers in Washington state to be kept private. The order also protects other personal information of over 138,000 individuals that signed a referendum petition that seeks to protect traditional marriage in Washington.
Ref. 71 allows voters to accept or reject SB-5688, a bill passed by the State Senate, that expands domestic partnerships to be equivalent to marriage.
James Bopp, lead counsel for Protect Marriage Washington, said the ruling shields supporters of marriage from harassment and threats. "The Supreme Court took a large step forward in protecting the rights of citizens who support a traditional definition of marriage to speak freely," he said. "No citizen should ever have their personal property destroyed or receive death threats for exercising their right to engage in the political process."
Personal attacks were seen in California last year after voters approved Prop. 8, the constitutional amendment that defined marriage as the union of one man and one woman. Names of petition-signers there were released to the public.
Lawyers for Washington have argued that the state's Public Records Act demands names be released. Bopp said gay-activist groups were also pushing for the names. "Homosexual activists asked for those names," he said, "so they could publish them on the Internet and encourage people to contact them and have a 'personal and uncomfortable' conversation with them."
Ref. 71, will be on the November ballot in Washington. The names will continue to be sealed until the court decides whether it will hear an appeal in the case a process that could take up to a year.
The decision was 8-1 by the high court with Justice John Paul Stevens voting in favor of releasing the names.