By Peter J. Smith
OLYMPIA, Washington, October 20, 2009 (LifeSiteNews.com) – The US Supreme Court has now intervened in the battle over the public release of tens of thousands of signatures to a petition for a referendum (R-71) in the State of Washington that allows voters to reject or approve a law that gives homosexual couples all the rights and benefits of marriage without the name of “marriage.”
The full panel of the US Supreme Court assembled and voted 8 -1 to stay a federal appeals court's decision that would have allowed Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed to make public the names of voters that signed onto a petition that led to R-71's placement on the November ballot. Only Justice John Paul Stevens cast the dissenting vote not to hear the case.
The high court reaffirmed the temporary order issued by Justice Anthony Kennedy on Monday that reinstated the decision of a US District Court judge to block the release of the names.
A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in California last Thursday had overturned U.S. District Judge Ben Settle's preliminary injunction that prevented the release of the petition signatures. Settle had ruled in his decision that First Amendment protections were at stake and that the state had failed to prove a compelling public interest that would mandate their release to the public.
The Supreme Court says its order will remain in force until they have sufficient time to consider arguments from both sides over why they should reverse the circuit court's ruling.
“We're ecstatic,” said Larry Stickney, campaign manager for Protect Marriage Washington, the coalition group behind R-71. Stickney told LifeSiteNews.com (LSN) that the order prevents the release of the signatures, addresses, and other personal information of Washingtonians that had expressed their desire for a referendum on the domestic partnerships law.
“As I have been advised by our attorneys it is very unlikely that those signatures will be made available before the election, which is a victory in itself,” continued Stickney. “We don't know if we will ultimately prevail, but we hope so, for the good of the country and the good of the State of Washington.”
Pro-family advocates under the banner Protect Marriage Washington successfully collected over 121,000 signatures of Washington voters that were sufficient to get Referendum 71 on the November ballot. If approved, R-71 would overturn SB 5688 – the law passed by the legislature in April, which sponsors said was specifically designed to act as a “bridge” to legalize same-sex marriage in Washington.
However, Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed and Attorney General Rob McKenna have fought against keeping the names from public access, arguing that Washington's Public Records Act required them to make available to the public the information. Failing to do this, they insisted, was harmful to open and transparent government.
But pro-marriage advocates argued that revealing the petitioners' information to the public would have a “chilling” effect on the democratic process in the state and that recent events – both local to Washington and out of state – have borne that statement out. (see coverage here and here).
Militant homosexual activists associated with two sites, WhoSigned.org and KnowThyNeighbor.org, vowed to take advantage of the state's public disclosure law and create searchable databases on the internet of the signers' names and addresses.
And while activists say that they intend to use the databases as an opportunity to dialogue with neighbors about homosexual rights, Stickney told LSN that he and other advocates have not had that experience. Since filing the referendum, Stickney said he and his family have come under direct threats and attack. This has also applied to other supporters, pastors, and financial contributors to Yes on R-71 whose identities became public, he said.
Stickney explained that in the past these public databases have included links to Google street view, “so people can even see what your house looks like.”
“It sends a chill into the electorate,” said Stickney. “It says next time I'm not going to get near an issue like this.”
What is more, added Stickney, was that nothing would prevent state officials from using these databases as ideological background checks on applicants seeking employment in state agencies.
Although homosexual opponents have outspent the pro-marriage coalition by 13-1, Stickney said they are “very excited” and have amassed a “David and Goliath” coalition that has met the challenge and put the polls in a dead heat.
The Protect Marriage Coalition now includes the Washington Values Alliance, Faith & Freedom Network, Eagle Forum of Washington, Concerned Women for America, Reagan Republicans, the State Republican Party, Family Policy Institute of Washington, and two Christian powerhouses: the Antioch Bible Church led by pastor and former NFL star Ken Hutchinson, and the Catholic Church in Washington, as of a week and a half ago.
Stickney said that people of faith are still the largest demographic in Washington, and could change the state and put people of integrity into office. But he said that statistics show that 8 – 15 percent of Evangelicals in the pews do not get out and vote, even though the state has made it very easy, “so chances are there is someone in the pew next to you who doesn't vote.”
“Support us if you can, visit our website, drop us a line, but keep us in your prayers most of all,” Stickney said. “We're a David and Goliath operation, but David picked out five smooth stones and he only needed one.”
See previous coverage by LifeSiteNews.com: