This Washington

Gay Rights Group Cheers 8-1 Decision, Reframes Discrimination Debate

By Josh Feit June 24, 2010

Washington Families Stand Together, the gay rights group that went to the U.S. Supreme Court with Washington AG Rob McKenn to argue that R-71 petetion signatures should be made public, issued a statement this morning on today's 8-1 ruling in their favor.

The key point of the statement addresses the outstanding issue, namely, will the plaintiffs in the case, Protect Marriage Washington, an anti-gay rights group, win a public disclosure exemption in this specific case?

Protect Marriage Washington argues that people who signed the petition may face harassment for their anti-gay marriage position.  However, Anne Levinson, chair of WFST, reframes the notion of discrimination:
With regard to the assertion by the anti-gay groups that they would be harmed if petition signatures were subject to public disclosure ... the Supreme Court has in the past allowed exemptions to public disclosure where there's a clear minority party that has suffered both official and societal retaliation by the majority such that disclosure presents a very real threat. With regard to Referendum 71, however, the groups making this claim were not the minority, but to the contrary, were the ones trying to diminish the rights of the minority. They will be hard pressed to convince a judge the record here is otherwise. [Bold is ours.]

She also quotes Justice Stevens: “Any burden on speech that petitioners posit is speculative as well as indirect ... there would have to be a significant threat of harassment directed at those who sign the petition that cannot be mitigated by law enforcement measures,” and adds herself:
In an amicus brief provided to the Supreme Court in Doe v. Reed, a group of political scientists reported that not only was the assertion of alleged harassment unsubstantiated in Washington State, but the plaintiffs did not present a single verified threat to any signer of a ballot measure petition in any state in any election. As their brief said, “More than a million names of signers of petitions for referenda and initiatives opposing gay marriage have been posted on the Internet, yet there is no evidence that any of these signers has faced any threat of retaliation or harassment by reason of that disclosure.”

Attorney General McKenna released this statement this morning:
"We’re pleased the Supreme Court ruled in favor of disclosure, upholding the public’s right to double check the work of signature gatherers and government—and giving them the ability to learn which voters are directing the state to hold an election on a new law. Citizen legislating is too important to be conducted in secret.”
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