If people in your neighborhood are anti-gay bigots, Brian Murphy, a 45-year-old gay man who lives with his partner in Capitol Hill, thinks you should confront them. And he plans to tell you who they are and where they live.
On WhoSigned.org, Murphy intends to publish the names and whereabouts of every person who signs a petition for Referendum 71, which attempts to repeal Washington's recently passed domestic partnership bill. “People would be able to look up who in their neighborhood signed the petitions, and then have the opportunity to have the conversation with them in person. We think that is the best way to do it,” says Murphy. “People can say, 'This is the impact this could have on me and my family.'”
Under state law, petitions for any referendum or initiative that qualifies for the ballot become public record. So if the sponsors of Referendum 71, Protect Marriage Washington, gather the 120,577 signatures needed to qualify for the November ballot, Murphy plans to transcribe the signers' information—names, cities, zip codes—and include them in a searchable database. He is undecided whether or not to publish their exact addresses.
But the tactic—although opening the door to a civil dialogue—also appears a strategy to intimidate people into not signing the petition. And while "gay families" seem about the least threatening demographic to liberals, dispatching them to debate their political opponents is clearly incendiary. However, Murphy thinks it's part of the democratic process.
“What we are really after is civil, legal and respectful dialogue,” says Murphy, an Australian who moved here in 1995 and became a US citizen to stay with his partner. But he also acknowledges he trying to make people think twice before signing. "That makes people less willing to sign on initiatives that take away rights."
Murphy's inspiration comes from KnowThyNeighbor.org, an organization that has publicized the names of petition signers in Massachusetts, Florida, Arkansas, and Oregon. He launched WhoSigned.org in 2006, planning to publish the names on Referendum 65; however, that petition—which would have put a bill regarding anti-gay discrimination up to a public vote—didn’t get enough signatures to qualify for the ballot.
“When Referendum 71 came up this time—with the experience of Prop 8 ringing in everyone's ears—it became clear that we needed to have some conversations and this is an opportunity to have them,” Murphy says.