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Protect Marriage Washington has petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to block the public release of the names and other personal information of 138,000 people who signed a petition the goal of which was to strip gay and lesbian couples of the same domestic partnership rights enjoyed by married heterosexual couples in Washington state. The drafters of Referendum 71, a recent ballot initiative, gained enough petition signatures to take the issue to the voters after the Washington Legislature passed a bill extending the domestic partnerships benefits to gays and lesbians. Under Washington law, people voting “yes” wanted to retain the benefits. On Nov. 3, “yes” votes outstripped “no” votes, 52.5 percent to 47.4 percent. Groups in favor of retaining the benefits, including KnowThyNeighbor.org, have been demanding release of the names and addresses of those who signed the Referendum 71 petition. On July 28, Protect Marriage Washington sued the state seeking injunctive relief to prevent releasing the names, addresses and other personal information of those who signed the petition. On Oct. 22, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, ruling that public disclosure of petition signers’ identities was not subject to strict scrutiny, reversed a lower court that granted a preliminary injunction shielding the names. On Nov. 6, Protect Marriage Washington petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the 9th Circuit. “We feel that there is a strong First Amendment interest here — that the petition signers have — in not having their identity and their beliefs compelled to be released to the public,” said James Bopp Jr. of Bopp, Coleson & Bostrom in Terre Haute, Ind., who represents Protect Marriage Washington. “And apparently the 9th Circuit really discounted that interest.” Bopp, who is general counsel of the James Madison Center for Free Speech, said that petition signers continue to receive threats, harassment and intimidation not unlike the behavior against people who donated money in support of last year’s California vote on Proposition 8, which overturned a California Supreme Court ruling extending marriage benefits to lesbians and gays. The court petition said, for instance, that Larry Stickney, campaign manager for Protect Marriage Washington, received an e-mail warning to avoid areas of Washington and another e-mail threatening to hurt his family. “Our view, and that of the Attorney General, is that initiative and referendum petitions clearly fall within the definition of public records and should be releasable,” Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed said in a prepared statement. “Just as with legislative bill sponsors, the people of Washington want to know who is responsible for measures that are being adopted or rejected via citizen-legislating.” Tom Lang, co-director of KnowThyNeighbor.org, which has campaigned to release nearly 1 million names in recent years related to ballot initiatives addressing gay rights across the country, said that the names of people who sign referenda in Washington have always been made public. “We don’t believe that people who engaged in an activity like starting the process to take people’s rights away should be able to exist under the cover of darkness,” he said. “And that’s exactly what’s happening in Washington.”

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