The Supreme Court on Tuesday blocked a lower court order to release the names of signers to a ballot measure in Washington State while it considers taking up the case. The intervention is just the latest move in a long battle mounted by anti-gay foes to shield the names of people who signed a petition that puts a gay-inclusive domestic partnership law up to a vote.

The order follows Justice Anthony L. Kennedy's temporary hold issued on Monday, the Seattle Times reported.

Protect Marriage Washington, the group responsible for collecting the nearly 138,000 signatures to put Referendum 71 on the November ballot, appealed to the Supreme Court after the 9th Circuit ordered the release of the names last week.

Gay rights group wants to publish the names on the Internet. Under Washington State law, names of people who sign petitions become public record after the Secretary of State verifies a petition.

Opponents say releasing the names would put those people at risk of harassment, reprisals and boycotts of their businesses, amounting to an unconstitutional infringement on free speech rights.

Protect Marriage Washington is being represented by the Christian-based legal group Alliance Defense Fund (ADF). The ADF earlier set up a Referendum 71 webpage to collect data from people who “have been threatened or suffered retaliation after signing an R-71 petition” or were prevented from signing a petition.

If Referendum 71 fails it would only repeal rights approved by the Legislature this year, the second time the gay-inclusive domestic partnership law has been extended. Governor Chris Gregoire signed into law the original bill that created the domestic partnership law and the two extensions. This year's law places domestic partners on par with married couples with regards to rights and obligations offered by the state, and was dubbed the “everything but marriage” bill by the media. Washington State bans gay marriage by law.

Gay activists say they want to make the names public to foster a dialogue on gay rights. The court's actions, however, dramatically dim the chances that the names will be released before the November 3 election.