TACOMA, Wa. (July 2, 2011) — A federal court will be asked again to decide whether it is unconstitutional to provide the names of those who signed a petition protecting traditional marriages from death threats made by same-sex marriage activists.
More than 138,000 residents signed a petition in 2009 to repeal a law that gives same-sex partners all the legal rights of married couples. The petition succeeded in putting a referendum on the November 2009 ballot, but the initiative failed to get enough votes to become law.
Almost two years later, same-sex advocacy groups and Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed wanted to release names and personal information of the petition signers. The groups seeking this information planned to post all the names on the Internet, with the intent to intimidate the petition signers to prevent other referendums from making it on a ballot.
"What is becoming increasingly evident is that some groups and individuals, certainly a minority, have resorted to advancing their cause, not by debating the merits of the issue but by discouraging participation in the democratic process itself," said James Bopp, Jr., lead counsel for Protect Marriage Washington.
"The First Amendment was designed to ensure that all groups, whatever their persuasion, could participate fully in our Republic." Bopp said. "That breaks down when some groups or individuals are cowed into silence for fear that they or their families will be targeted or threatened if they speak up."
A situation occurred in California after an election in 2008 with same-sex advocacy groups. A similar referendum defining marriage as only between a man and woman successfully passed and became law.
Supporters of the bill became the target of death threats and damage to their property. Their names, addresses, and name of employers were placed on Web sites by advocacy groups supporting same-sex marriage. These Web sites also combined this with an online map to provide would-be harrassers with directions to the homes of the petition signers.
In the state of Washington, petitions have not been released to the public until Sam Reed, Washington's Secretary of State, became the first to attempt releasing copies of petitions.
In Bopp's motion, Doe vs. Reed, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington issued an order on Sept. 10, 2009, preventing the release of the petition signer's names. This was appealed and on Oct. 15, 2009, the Ninth Circuit Court overturned the lower's court's decision, allowing the release of the names. Five days later, the U.S. Supreme Court issued an emergency order preventing the release of the names until it could hear arguments on the motion.
On June 2010, the Supreme Court opinion held that, as a general proposition, it was not unconstitutional for a state to publicize the names and addresses of citizens who have signed a referendum petition. It also held, however, that the First Amendment demands that an exception be made if a group can show "a reasonable probability that the compelled disclosure of personal information will subject them to threats, harassment, or reprisals from either government officials or private parties."
The motion claims that in Washington, California, and across the country, whenever an election involves denying benefits to same-sex marriages, the availability of personal information on the Internet has led to the harassment and intimidation of those who oppose same-sex marriage. Those supporting traditional marriage have been subjected to death threats, physical violence, and property damage.
Protect Marriage Washington, the group that asked the court to hear this case, is seeking to prevent the release of the personal information of the individuals who signed the referendum petition, upholding the right of its citizens to speak freely without fear of harassment or intimidation.
Protect Marriage Washington presented hundreds of pages of documented examples of threats and reprisals directed at supporters of traditional marriage, not only in Washington but across the country.
The evidence includes death threats, extensive vandalism, overt threats of destruction of property, arson and threats of arson, intimidating emails and phone calls, hate mail, mailed envelopes containing white suspicious powder, blacklists, loss of employment and job opportunities, and gross expressions of anti-religious bigotry, including vandalism and threats directed at religious institutions and religious adherents-all for doing nothing more than standing up for traditional marriage.
The district court is scheduled to hear oral arguments on Aug. 5, 2011.