The names and addresses of everyone who signed Referendum 71, which puts the rights of same-sex partners up to a vote, will remain cloaked from public view, according to a federal ruling today. US District Court Judge Benjamin Settle issued a 17-page decision, siding with John and Jane Doe, who sought a temporary restraining order on the basis that releasing their names to the gays would cause them harm. Secretary of State Sam Reed was the defendant in the lawsuit, arguing that petitions are lawmaking documents and should be subject to the same transparency as any other mechanism used to set policy. Reed's spokesman, Brian Zylstra, has just issued a statement:
Our office has followed the state law that says referendum petitions are public records and thus should be made available upon request. We believe in open government and think the judge’s decision is a step away from open government. While we are disappointed in the judge’s decision, we respect it and will continue to withhold these petitions from public viewing unless there is a different ruling in the future. When people sign a referendum or initiative petition, they are trying to change state law. We believe that changing state law should be open to public view.
The case stems from Brian Murphy, who blogs as the Gay Curmudgeon, filing a records request for the petitions in late July. He intended to post the information on WhoSigned.org, thereby enabling gay people to civilly confront those who signed the petition. But the craven bigots who filed the referendum, Protect Marriage Washington, argued in federal court that releasing the names and addresses would cause petition signers “immediate and irreparable deprivations of their First Amendment liberties." The group said that “individuals whose names are already connected with Referendum 71 have been subjected to threats, harassment, and reprisals simply for exercising their First Amendment freedoms of speech and association.” On July 29, US District Court Judge Benjamin Settle issued a temporary injunction that prevented the state from releasing the information, and last week he announced he would resolve the matter today.
Settle's opinion rests largely on the ideas that releasing petition signatures carries no public benefit, and that signing petitions, like the right to free speech, may be done anonymously. Three excerpts of his ruling are after the jump.
The first one comes form page 10:
From page 12:
And page 12:
I'm waiting on a call back from the Secretary of State's office to hear if they plan to appeal the decision.