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Judge orders release of petitioners’ names

Mon., Oct. 17, 2011, 1:14 p.m.

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — The 138,000 people who signed petitions to force a vote on a 2009 domestic partnership law are unlikely to face harassment if their names are disclosed a judge said Friday while ordering the release of signatures.

U.S. District Judge Benjamin Settle said the petitioners who advocated for privacy provided only a few experiences of indecent statements and other uncomfortable conversations. Also, there was only speculation that those incidents were connected to the issue, he said.

Disclosure would become the exception, rather than the rule, if just a few instances of harassment were used as the standard for preventing the release of names, Settle said.

Attorneys on the other side had argued that disclosure was necessary to ensure there wasn’t fraud.

“Had the Court agreed that these ballot measure petitions could be kept secret because the referendum’s sponsors were bothered by some who voiced opposition to their point of view, it would have set a terrible precedent for future elections.” said Anne Levinson, chairwoman of the Washington Families Standing Together, which led the campaign to protect the domestic partnership law.

James Bopp, Jr., an attorney pushing to keep the names private, said he planned to appeal and hoped to get a temporary ruling to prevent the immediate release of names.

“I think the court adopted an impossible standard for anyone to ever meet to protect themselves from an organized campaign of harassment,” Bopp said.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that release of the signatures does not violate constitutional rights, but the justices allowed advocates to prove that the release would put signers in danger. One of the signature gatherers testified that he received an angry text message from his brother and received obscene or profane gestures from passing cars.

Referendum 71 asked voters to approve or reject the state’s domestic partnership law, which granted registered domestic partners additional state rights previously given only to married couples. It was approved with 53 percent of the vote.

Full-fledged gay marriage is still not allowed under Washington law.

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