UPDATE: Washington Attorney General to appeal ruling that blocked release of R-71 signatures
Federal Judge Benjamin Settle in Tacoma, Washington ordered a preliminary injunction Thursday against the release of Referendum 71 petitions to the public, keeping the names of those who signed anonymous. Citing the First Amendment of free speech, even anonymous free speech, the judge ruled that the state of Washington did not prove a compelling public interest.
This ruling clearly goes against state law which clearly states that petitions to change state law should be made public.
Brian Zylstra, spokesman for Secretary of State Sam Reed, told the Seattle Times that the judge's decision "is a step away from open government."
"When people sign a referendum or initiative petition, they are trying to change state law," he said. "We believe that changing state law should be open to public view."
Referendum 71, sponsored by a conservative political group called Protect Marriage Washington, is asking voters in Washington to approve or reject the “everything but marriage” domestic partnership law that state lawmakers passed earlier this year.
Protect Marriage Washington, which filed the suit to keep names private, fear petition-signers could be harassed and face their businesses being boycotted, similar to what happened to Proposition 8 supporters in California.
The court action was prompted, in part, by a Bellingham blogger who wrote, "I advocate using violence against the property of all of those who are working tirelessly to hurt my family" and "government is enabling a vote on whether or not I should be allowed to see my husband while he is dying in a hospital — any normal man would be driven to get a gun and kill those who tried such evil cruelty."
Yet this view is not shared by the majority of those who wish to view the names, or in some cases, post them on the internet.
Brian Murphy, who is prepared to post the names of signers on his searchable Web site, whosigned.org, called it "shocking that Protect Marriage Washington is attacking gay and lesbian couples and their families and then somehow claiming the right to secrecy and victim status for themselves."
Judge Settle had previously granted a temporary restraining order blocking release of the names. His order Thursday preserves the status quo — the names remain secret — while he decides the case on its merits.
The State of Washington is considering an appeal.