Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Supreme Court Hears Washington's Ref. 71 Case

Today's Washington Post is reporting that gay rights opponents are asking the Supreme Court to protect the anonymity of the signers of a petition that sought a vote to overturn Washington state's domestic partnership rights.

The case being argued at the high court Wednesday weighs the right to political speech, unfettered by fear of intimidation, against transparency in government.

Opponents of the law that expanded the rights of gay couples mounted a petition drive that succeeded in getting a referendum on the "everything-but-marriage" law on last year's ballot. But voters narrowly backed the law that grants registered domestic partners the same legal rights as married couples.

While the campaign was under way, gay rights supporters sought access to the petitions under Washington's open records law. Protect Marriage Washington, the group that organized opposition to the law, objected, saying its members would be harassed if their names were made public.

The Supreme Court stepped in and blocked release of the names before the vote. The justices later intervened in another case where gay rights opponents complained about potential harassment. The court's conservative majority prevented broadcast of the trial on California's ban on same-sex marriage.

In Washington, gay rights opponents argue that signing a petition is akin to voting, when anonymity is strictly protected. Supporters of disclosure equate signing a petition for a referendum with what lawmakers do.

The Associated Press is among 22 news organizations and media trade associations that filed a brief in the case supporting public disclosure of the documents.

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