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Editorial: Web site will generate animosity, not support

Why go there?

That’s the question on the minds of many supporters of gay rights, as they ponder the news that some opponents of Referendum 71 have put up a Web site that will publish all the names and addresses of people who sign petitions for a ballot measure that seeks to overturn the “everything but marriage” law.

To some gays and lesbians, this not-so-subtle intimidation tactic must hearken to times they’ve been harassed. It is a complete turnabout from the steady, thoughtful approach that has won so many converts over the years. Plus, it smacks of desperation at a time when the proponents of equal rights seem assured of victory.

According to a Quinnipiac University poll taken in April, Americans support civil unions by a wide margin (57 percent to 38 percent). Essentially, those are what the new Washington state law provides. Majorities also show support for same-sex couples being able to adopt, garner employee benefits and other rights. They’re also fine with openly gay people serving in the military.

In addition, many traditional opponents of gay rights wish R-71 had never been filed. They sense that attitudes have shifted and that voters won’t respond well to an attempt that reaches past gay marriage and re-establishes the unfairness written into state statutes, which limited many rights and benefits to married couples.

In short, all signs point to a crushing defeat for the sponsors of Referendum 71. There is no need for hardball tactics that could end up leaving hard feelings for years to come. Proponents should consider whether injecting ill will into the debate will cripple them when they push for marriage, which will be a much tougher battle.

Knowthyneighbor is a Massachusetts-based gay rights group that posts the names of petition signers. Its director, Tom Lang, said in April: “These petition signers need to stand behind their signatures and be responsible for this dehumanizing attack on the gay community.”

It sounds more like retribution than an invitation to a civil debate.

We agree that signers should have no expectation of privacy, but the Web site could invite harassment and confrontation. It could also discourage people from engaging the issue to begin with.

While the Web site publishers are right about gay rights, they risk turning this issue into a referendum about their tactics. And that could spell long-term trouble.


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