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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Court to release petition names

Protect Marriage failed to show serious threat of reprisal, judge rules

Lornet Turnbull Seattle Times

SEATTLE – A federal judge on Monday issued a ruling to release the names of 137,500 people who two years ago signed Referendum 71 petitions to bring Washington state’s domestic-partnership law to a vote.

The Secretary of State’s Office said it would release the names immediately.

In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Benjamin Settle of Tacoma said that Protect Marriage Washington, a religious conservative group that had sought to keep the names sealed, failed to show that signers would be harassed if the names were disclosed.

Protect Marriage said Monday that it will appeal Settle’s ruling.

“We still think the people who signed these petitions in good faith acted in a way they didn’t think would expose them to the kind of ridicule and possible danger we feel is out there,” said Gary Randall, a spokesman for the organization. “We disagree with the ruling. We’re doing the paperwork as we speak.”

The state has maintained that the petitions need to be open under the state’s Public Disclosure Law.

The legal battle began after Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire, in the spring of 2009, signed into a law a measure that expanded the state’s domestic partnership law. The additional provisions allowed same-sex and some senior couples to use sick leave to care for each other and to claim one another’s death benefits.

Through Referendum 71, Protect Marriage sought to repeal the expanded law and sued the state to seal the names of signers after a gay rights activist said he would reveal the names on a searchable website.

In arguing before Settle earlier this month, Protect Marriage pointed to hostile fallout across California after voters repealed gay marriage there three years ago under Proposition 8: Churches and personal property were defaced and vandalized, and people lost their jobs – incidents the group documented in 263 news and blog clippings and videos submitted as evidence in the case.

But in his ruling Monday, Settle said Protect Marriage failed to show any “serious and widespread threats, harassment, or reprisals against the signers of R-71, or even that such activity would be reasonably likely to occur upon the publication of their names and contact information.”