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Washington PDC rejects request to seal donor names

Gay partnership foes sought secrecy because of threats

OLYMPIA — The state Public Disclosure Commission on Tuesday rejected a request to seal the names of donors to a campaign to overturn Washington state’s newly expanded domestic partnership law.

The commission has added the group’s request to a previously scheduled meeting later this month.

In a letter sent to Protect Marriage Washington, the commission says the donor names are a public record, and some names had already been made public beginning in June.

“These reports and this disclosure to the public are required by statute,” wrote Doug Ellis, assistant director of the PDC.

Last week, Protect Marriage Washington asked the commission to hold an emergency hearing and requested that “any disclosures made prior to any hearing be held under seal” because the group has received threats.

An attorney for the R-71 campaign, Stephen Pidgeon, wrote that a threat posted on the Web site Queer Equality Revolution was forwarded to the FBI.

Special Agent Fred Gutt said Tuesday that he was not aware of the case being referred to the FBI. He said that if the agency did receive a complaint, it would most likely be referred to the state attorney general’s office because it doesn’t involve a federal election.

Pidgeon said that while he wasn’t surprised by the PDC’s decision, he believes the state needs to rethink its position, “especially when threats of violence are present which affect the exercise of First Amendment rights.”

He said the group they would present its concerns at the Aug. 27 PDC meeting.

The Web site cited by Pidgeon says it is run by John Bisceglia of Bellingham. Bisceglia wrote that he advocated using violence “against the property of ALL of those who are working tirelessly to HURT my family; starting with churches and government property. 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 against his loved ones.”

“Don’t even TRY to call ME a `bully’ — I am defending myself AGAINST the bullies,” he wrote.

Pidgeon also cites several e-mails he says members of the campaign have received that threaten violence.

“This is a true threat to the lives and property of those people who support the referendum process,” he wrote to the commission.

When asked to comment Tuesday, Bisceglia directed people to his blog, where he wrote that people were overreacting to what he posted earlier. He wrote, “I NEVER `urged people to get guns and kill,’ although I DO believe in SELF-DEFENSE.”

On his Web site, Bisceglia writes that he’s a former piano teacher who blogs to “avoid the insanity and RAGE I feel as I listen, wait for, and experience Americans `debating’ AND voting on my CIVIL RIGHT to marry the person I love.”

Protect Marriage Washington is trying to repeal the so-called “everything but marriage” law, which would expand gay partnership rights. The new law was scheduled to take effect July 26, but it has been delayed until officials can verify whether there are enough valid signatures to put R-71 on the November ballot. If there are enough signatures, the law will be delayed until the outcome of the election.

A federal judge has granted a temporary restraining order to bar the release of signatures on R-71 petitions, which are still being counted. The campaign needs 120,577 valid signatures and turned in more than 137,000 signatures July 25.

A political group called WhoSigned.Org has said it will publish online the names of people who signed petitions. The petition-listing effort is not supported by the official campaign trying to keep R-71 off the ballot.

A spokesman for that group, Washington Families Standing Together, said it condemns any threats of violence.

“The only way we’re going to achieve full equality for our families is through a civil and open conversation about the lives of our families and the important protections that the domestic partnership law provides,” said Josh Friedes, a spokesman for the group.

“I don’t want to diminish the pain and anguish that a non-gay person might feel if they are the subject of a nasty e-mail or Web posting, but every day, we get nasty, harassing e-mails in the office and posted online,” he said. “We all have to be focused on creating a society which respects each other and allows for civil discussion of controversial issues.”

The new domestic partnership law expands on Washington’s existing partnerships. The newest version adds registered domestic partners to all remaining areas of state law that presently apply only to married couples. Those statutes range from adoption and child support rights and obligations, to pensions and other public employee benefits.

The underlying domestic partnership law, which passed the Legislature two years ago, provided hospital visitation rights, the ability to authorize autopsies and organ donations, and inheritance rights when there is no will. Last year, lawmakers expanded it to give domestic partners standing under laws covering probate and trusts, community property and guardianship.

The domestic partnership bill is Senate Bill 5688.