WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court today got involved for the second time this week in a case in which opponents of gay rights fear they will be harassed if their views are made public.
The high court said today that it would consider whether Washington state officials can release more than 138,500 names on a petition seeking a vote on overturning the state's domestic-partnership rights.
Protect Marriage Washington, which unsuccessfully opposed the law giving gay couples expanded rights, wants to shield from disclosure the signers of the petition for a referendum on that law. The group says it fears harassment by gay-rights supporters, some of whom have vowed to post signers' names on the Internet.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco said before the Nov. 3, 2009, vote that the names could be made public, but the Supreme Court blocked their release until it decided whether to hear the case, Doe v. Reed.
Justices also intervened this week in another case in which gay-rights opponents complained about potential harassment.
The Court's conservative majority decided to block the delayed online broadcast of a federal trial on California's ban of same-sex marriage. Lawyers representing opponents of gay marriage argued that broadcasts would expose their trial witnesses to retaliation from gay-marriage supporters.
In Washington state, Referendum 71 asked voters to approve or reject the so-called "everything but marriage" law, which grants registered domestic partners the same legal rights as married couples.
"We are pleased that the Supreme Court has agreed to hear this case that seeks to protect the rights of citizens who support a traditional definition of marriage to speak freely and without fear," said James Bopp, Jr., an attorney representing Protect Marriage Washington. "No citizen should ever worry that they will be threatened or injured because they have exercised their right to engage in the political process."
U.S. District Judge Benjamin Settle in Tacoma blocked the release of the petitions, saying that releasing the names could chill the First Amendment rights of petition signers. The San Francisco-based 9th Circuit reversed that ruling, but the Supreme Court blocked the release.
Washington state officials say the petitions are covered by their public-record laws. "We welcome an opportunity to go to the highest court in the land to defend Washington citizens' strong desire for transparency, openness and accountability in government, and the public's belief that our state and local public documents must be available for public inspection," said Secretary of State Sam Reed.
But not all state officials feel that way. State Rep. Mike Armstrong, R-Wenatchee, is sponsoring a bill that would exempt the petitions from public records, while Rep. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, wants a law making clear that names and addresses on petitions are public record.