James Bopp, Jr. would rather people
stop asking questions about who is funding and supporting the
anti-gay marriage movement in America, but pesky gay rights groups
Bopp represents clients in two similar
cases that seek to keep supporters of anti-gay marriage bans secret.
A federal district judge in Tacoma
ruled Thursday in Bopp's favor. At stake are the identities of some
120,000 Washington State residents who supported the effort to put a
gay-inclusive domestic partnership law up for a vote in November.
If approved, Referendum 71 – the
“everything but marriage” law – would give gay and lesbian
couples all the rights of marriage. It is the second expansion to
the state's 2007 domestic partnership law.
In his ruling, Judge Benjamin H. Settle
said signing a petition amounted to federally protected political
speech, and that the identities of signers to a petition are
“irrelevant to the voter.”
Washington State election officials
disagree, and vowed to appeal the ruling.
“In all states with initiative or
referendum systems, the ballot measure represents the people
substituting themselves for legislatures,” Washington Attorney
General Rob McKenna told the New York Times. “We don't
conduct the legislative process in secret, and it doesn't make sense
to conduct this legislative process in secret either.”
Bopp said his concern was for the
safety of petition signers: “We're not talking about removing the
transparency of government. We're talking about whether citizens
should be outed in their participation in our democracy.”
Gay rights groups in several states
have previously published the names of signers to anti-gay petitions
on the Internet, including in Arkansas, California and Massachusetts.
Backers of such tactics insist they only want to create a sense of
social responsibility by fostering a dialogue between signers and gay
and lesbian friends, neighbors or co-workers.
Fred Karger, founder of Californians
Against Hate, says the challenges against transparency laws are
part of a larger attempt to toss out all reporting requirements.
“They [anti-gay groups] have created
front groups that can do their bidding in banning same-sex marriage
throughout the United States. The Mormon Church gave $1.2 million to
ban gay marriage in Alaska and Hawaii, and got caught. Ever since
they work through front groups to try and hide their direct
“They are trying to toss out all
reporting requirements … so the Church and its members can continue
to operate in secrecy,” he said in an email.
Karger was recently subpoenaed to be
deposed in Bopp's California effort to shield from public view the
names of donors to Proposition 8, the voter-initiated constitutional
amendment that bans gay marriage in the state. Bopp is appealing a
January opinion that ruled against his client, ProtectMarriage.com,
the group behind Proposition 8.
Karger disclosed the subpoena to On
Top Magazine over the weekend, saying he feared the maneuver was
an attempt to silence his group's attempts to shed light on the long,
often camouflaged, support tail that feeds the anti-gay marriage
movement. “It ain't going to work,” he said.
Karger is also behind an effort that
urges Maine officials to investigate the reporting practices of the
group Stand for Marriage Maine, which has lead the opposition to a
recently approved gay marriage law.
“I believe the four founders of Stand
for Marriage Maine are merely conduits for those wishing to hide
their contributions,” Karger said in a letter to Jonathan Wayne,
executive director of the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and
Stand for Marriage Maine includes the
National Organization for Marriage (NOM), the nation's most
vociferous opponent of gay marriage, and the Catholic Diocese of
Portland. (NOM has played a pivotal role in the gay marriage debates
of California, Iowa, New York, and the New England region.)
In the group's first financial
disclosure report they listed contributions from individual donors at
$400 out of $343,689.50.
Brian Brown, president of NOM, emailed
donors repeatedly in the spring that they would remain anonymous.
“And unlike in California, every
dollar you give to NOM's Northeast Action Plan today is private, with
no risk of harassment from gay marriage protesters,” he wrote in
one email. Another plea included, “Your gift is confidential: no
After Thursday's win, Bopp called the
judge's ruling a “welcome step toward protecting citizens who
simply want to participate in our democratic processes and have their
public policy positions considered by the people. No one should have
to suffer vandalism and death threats just because they support
government protection of traditional marriage.”
“People who oppose the law have every
right to try and block its implementation,” the Seattle Times
said in a editorial. “They cannot do it secretly and anonymously.”