The U.S. Supreme Court has scheduled an
April 28 hearing on whether Washington state officials can release
the names of signers of a ballot measure that sought to repeal a gay
The court agreed to hear the case in
January after Protect Marriage Washington appealed a 9th
Circuit Court of Appeals decision that ordered the release of nearly
138,000 signatures that put Referendum 71 on last fall's ballot.
Referendum 71 asked voters to accept –
or reject – a domestic partnership law approved by lawmakers that
gives gay couples all the rights of marriage. Voters opted to keep
Opponents say releasing the names would
put signers at risk of harassment, reprisals and boycotts of their
businesses, amounting to an unconstitutional infringement of free
Gay rights groups announced early in
the campaign their intention to make the names public via the
Under Washington state law, names of
people who sign petitions become public record after the Secretary of
State verifies a petition, but Referendum 71 names have remained
sealed pending the court's decision. State officials argue that the
names should be released because signers are acting in place of
lawmakers, who do not approve laws in secret.
The case – Doe No. 1 v. Reed –
is the first of two cases headed to the Supreme Court that stem from
gay rights actions. The high court has also agreed to hear a case
that concerns shielding the identities of defendants in January's
first federal case to challenge the constitutionality of a gay
marriage ban. In that case, gay rights opponents have also said that
they fear reprisals if their views are made public.
While rulings in neither case will affect gay rights legislation directly – the cases deal with
questions of privacy – they will be an early signal of how the
court could rule on several gay rights cases wending their way
through the federal system.
All the cases involve the right of gay
and lesbian couples to marry and are expected to reach the Supreme
Court within the next couple of years. The state of Massachusetts
has sued the federal government because the Defense of Marriage Act
(DOMA) blocks married gay couples from accessing federal benefits. A
case that originated in California asks the Supreme Court to
invalidate Proposition 8, the state's gay marriage ban. And a third
lawsuit, filed by Boston-based gay rights group GLAD, also challenges
portions of DOMA, but would have limited effect beyond Massachusetts.