Fallout from the debate over gay marriage may be about to hit the U.S. Supreme Court in a unique way: Do groups favoring gay marriage (or its near equivalent) have the right to know the identities of people who want voters to reverse the issue?
The case comes from Washington state, which enacted a law last year known as the “everything but marriage law.” It granted same-sex couples most of the rights of spouses.
In Washington state, an issue can be put before voters if enough of them sign a petition. Enough of them did and the question went before voters last November. They approved of the law, which went into effect last month.
Two Web sites, however, were created to “out” those who signed the petition to try to overturn the law — KnowTheyNeighbor.org and WhoSigned.org. And a district court restrained the state from releasing the identities before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the ruling. Now it’s before the U.S. Supreme Court.
What’s the issue? If you sign a political petition, is that protected speech under the Constitution, and if so, would making your name publicly available lead to harassment because of your political views? Would releasing your name violate your right to free speech?
The Appeals Court said the petitions were signed in public and there was no effort to protect their confidentiality.
It’s been a particularly tricky question since Proposition 8, overturning gay marriage in California, passed last November. Supporters of gay marriage used campaign contribution records to identify people who bankrolled the repeal effort. Even then Minnesota Timberwolves player Mark Madsen was targeted.
Does the possibility of being harassed for your political views intimidate you from expressing them?
In a tangential way, the Supreme Court acknowledged the danger of that when it ruled yesterday against televising the Proposition 8 trial underway in California. As I wrote on News Cut yesterday afternoon, the court said the publicity could lead to harassment of those testifying.
The Supreme Court justices will consider the case at a private conference tomorrow.