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 keep asking.

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 involvement.”

“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 Elections Practices.

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 public disclosure!”

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.”