The U.S. Supreme Court will hear
arguments Wednesday on whether Washington state officials can release
the names of signers of a ballot measure that sought to repeal a gay
The high 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 the state's ballot last
The ballot initiative asked voters to
accept – or reject – an expansion of an existing domestic
partnership law approved by lawmakers that gave gay couples all the
rights of marriage. Voters opted to keep the law dubbed “everything
but marriage” by the media.
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.
“What the anti-gay groups are
attempting to do is get a sweeping constitutional rule that will
allow them to continue to operate in secret in terms of ballot
measures all across the country,” Anne Levinson, chairwoman of
Washington Families Standing Together, the gay rights group which
campaigned to keep the state's domestic partnership expansion, told
the Seattle Times.
The outcome of the case – Doe v.
Reed – has the potential to affect laws in two dozen states
that allow citizens to put measures on the ballot.
The Supreme Court has also agreed to
hear a second case that stems from a gay rights action. The case
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 free speech and privacy – they could provide early
clues as to how the court might rule on several gay rights cases
wending their way through the federal system.
All three 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