Yes, said U.S. District Judge Benjamin Settle last week in granting a preliminary injunction that keeps secret the names of voters who signed the petition demanding a refernedum on a Washington state law that grants virtually all the rights of married couples to domestic partners.
Settle's decision comes from his stated and understandable desire to protect those signers from the pressure tactics of gay rights groups, who have said they would target those who signed (just as advocates for and against same-sex marriage in California have sought to pressure donors to the campaigns for and against Prop 8). Gay rights groups are probably hurting themselves with this approach, and all sides in the dispute should be more respectful of those with whom they disagree. But this is a dangerous decison that does real damage to the first amendment and to the public's right to know.
Petitioning the government to overturn a law is not, in way shape or form, a private act. It's a legislative act, in fact. Such a decision could be used as a precedent to shield other legislative acts and attempts to influence the law from disclosure and scrutiny. Some contacts between the public and the government required privacy, especially when the public is required to give the government information (as in the case of taxes). But since the Declaration of Independence, signing one's name to a petition in this country has been a public act. Settle's decision is a terrible departure from our constitutional tradition. he should reverse himself before a higher court does it for him. .
I live in Los Angeles' Miracle Mile, a short walk from the city of West Hollywood, which is both a mecca and haven for gays. I've been to my local movie theater twice since the passage of Prop 8, the California initiative to ban same-sex marriage. Each time, the feature came with a preview of the new Sean Penn movie, 'Milk,' about the life of the openly gay San Francisco County Supervisor Harvey Milk, who, along with Mayor George Moscone, was killed by fellow supervisor Dan White in 1978. And each time, after the "Milk" preview, the theater erupted in loud applause and a few shouted derogatory references to Prop 8.
The New York Times reported this weekend that supporters of same-sex marriage intend to use the December opening of "Milk" in their efforts to repeal Prop 8. That's a good idea--organizing needs to be done, so why not piggyback on the millions of marketing for a movie? But the Times treats this connection between a movie and direct democracy as news. It isn't.
Perhaps California's move to legalize same-sex marriages really does have legs. According to Politicker, the sponsor of an effort to force a referendum on a Maine law barring discrimination against gays and lesbians has thrown in the towel. He lacked money, people, and, it appears, political support. The same thing happened earlier this week with a referendum in Oregon.