Traditional marriage groups are appealing a federal judge’s decision in Washington State, arguing that it will encourage discrimination against and harassment of citizens who oppose same-sex marriage by national and local gay rights pressure organizations.
The groups want to keep confidential the names of traditional marriage supporters who participated in a gay rights battle two years ago, arguing that disclosing the names of petition signers will open these individuals up to harassment from gay rights groups who are demanding disclosure.
U.S. District Judge Benjamin Settle of Tacoma denied a motion by Protect Marriage Washington calling for the names of petition signers to be kept from groups such as KnowThyNeighbor.org and WhoSigned.org which plan to post the names on a searchable website. KnowThyNeighbor.org is a national organization committed to bringing pressure on traditional marriage supporters by identifying individuals and encouraging protests against them.
Traditional marriage supporters had hoped to overturn state Senate bill 5688 with Referendum 71 at the ballot box. Senate bill 5688 expands existing Domestic Partnership legislation to allow same-sex domestic partners state privileges given to married couples. Those privileges include the ability to pass on possessions to surviving partners upon their death and for partners to claim child support among other things.
Settle wrote that since the referendum produced by the petition, dubbed Referendum 71, failed nearly two years ago, there is little risk to petition signers.
However, Liberty Counsel Chairman and Founder Mathew Staver said, "We have to ask, 'Why do they want the names published?' The only reason is harass and intimidate."
In the midst of the referendum effort, WhoSigned.org said on its website that it planned to publicize the petition's signatures in order to "provide Washington state voters with a way for reporting when their signature has been recorded either fraudulently or in error."
"The only reason why the people want them is to harass individuals that are in support of marriage as one man and one woman," Staver countered.
He said California supporters of state constitutional marriage amendment Proposition 8 were "targeted at their businesses" and churches were "sent powder as a threat that it might be anthrax."
Indeed local Fresno television news stations reported that 2008 Mayor Alan Autry and Cornerstone Church Pastor Jim Franklin were sent threatening emails because of Prop. 8. Additionally, radical gay group Bash Back! claimed responsibility for the vandalism of a Mormon church.
PMW said it provided evidence of such threats and vandalism. Judge Settle wrote, however, in his 38-page opinion, that the group did not present "a reasonable probability that the threats, harassment, or reprisals exists as to the signers of R-71, now nearly two years after R-71 was submitted to the voters in Washington State."
The U.S. Supreme Court also ruled 8-1 in a 2010 case that that petition signers do not have a constitutional right to keep their identities private.
Staver said he disagrees with the high court's assessment and said, at that time of their ruling, the court did not have sufficient evidence about the threats that followed petitions for marriage amendments.
PMW Attorney Stephen Pidgeon said the Monday decision was a "dramatic setback to the right of privacy in the state of Washington" and charged that the court "erred" in its decision.
Pidgeon has filed for an appeal and is filing an emergency motion temporarily halting Settle's decision in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Staver said of Settle's ruling, "The ruling is wrong and it creates a chilling effect on people's right to vote."
The Christian Post attempted to contact WhoSigned.org to ask about its future plans. The group did not get back to CP in time for this publication. The site does not have any signatures posted as of Wednesday afternoon.
Gay rights website KnowThyNeighbor.org has already posted the full names and addresses of traditional marriage petitioners in Arkansas, Florida, Massachusetts and Oregon. It already has a space reserved for Washington petition names.