A battle is set to begin in the U.S. Supreme Court, as backers of traditional marriage hope to fend off a law that would make their names and addresses public and, therefore, make them prime targets for homosexual activists intent on bullying them into silence.
The case calls into question whether voters have protected free speech and anonymity rights in signing petitions and ballot initiatives or whether states must release signatories’ names and addresses as a matter of public record.
With reported cases of bullying, organized boycotts and threats of violence against the signers of traditional marriage initiatives in several states already – and homosexual activists pledging to make lists of signatories public and searchable online – lawyers at the American Center for Law and Justice are concerned that voters may grow fearful of reprisal should they sign a petition seeking to restrict marriage to one man and one woman. That fear, the ACLJ is arguing in a brief filed this week before the Court, is exactly the kind of political and voter intimidation that the Constitution should protect against.
“The right to secret ballot safeguards citizens from the historic evil of voter intimidation,” the ACLJ brief argues. “Similarly, the right to anonymity in signing referendum petitions is no less essential in safeguarding signers from reprisal or intimidation.”
As WND has reported, those who have dared to sign or vote for traditional marriage in state petitions and referendums have faced backlash. In Maine, homosexual activists targeted churches with IRS complaints, and following California’s passage of the controversial Proposition 8, supporters of the measure limiting marriage to one man and one woman were fired from their jobs, subjected to vandalism, bullied by angry mobs and threatened with violence.
Churches that rallied in support of Proposition 8 were targets of particular wrath on Internet sites and blogs:
“Burn their f—ing churches to the ground, and then tax the charred timbers,” wrote “World O Jeff” on the JoeMyGod blogspot within hours of California officials declaring Proposition 8 had been approved.
On another site, Americablog, “scottinsf” wrote, “Trust me. I’ve got a big list of names of Mormons and Catholics that were big supporters of Prop 8. … As far as Mormons and Catholics … I warn them to watch their backs.”
“If you’re planning a heterosexual wedding in California … be prepared for picketers. Designate someone to watch the parking lot … You’re going to have lots of unexpected expenses. Add $500 to your budget for security,” stated another threat. “Be afraid. Be very afraid. We are everywhere.”
“Californians have been shocked by the aggressiveness of radical homosexual activists,” states Brad Dacus, president of the Pacific Justice Institute, on the group’s website. “These tactics of fear and intimidation in retaliation for supporting a lawful ballot measure are completely unacceptable.”
The current case before the Supreme Court has arisen over similar fears among voters in the state of Washington, but with ramifications that could affect the entire nation.
Last fall, 138,000 Washington voters petitioned to put on the ballot Referendum 71, which challenged the state’s recently expanded domestic-partnership law granting benefits to homosexual couples.
And while the measure failed in the general election, an organization called WhoSigned.org, along with its national partner KnowThyNeighbor.org, has asked for the names and addresses of the petition’s signatories under the state’s public-records act. The plan is to post them on a searchable website.
Protect Marriage Washington then sued to block release of the names, saying the state’s public disclosure law “chills free speech … particularly when it is reasonably probable that those exercising their First Amendment rights would be subjected to threats and harassment.”
The charges of potential harassment have long been dismissed by KnowThyNeighbor.org, which has already posted similar lists of names and addresses for four other states: Arkansas, Florida, Massachusetts and Oregon.
“Such claims are irresponsible, incendiary and totally untrue,” wrote Aaron Toleos, co-director of KnowThyNeighbor.org, in 2007. “There is no organized plan to confront petition signers. In fact, we have never advocated for this and don’t think it’s constructive. No one is going to be knocking on random doors. It just doesn’t happen.”
According to an article published in the Olympian, however, a spokesman for WhoSigned.org said he hoped posting the list of names “would lead to conversations between neighbors about the legislation” and that “the list would give gay rights advocates the opportunity to educate individuals.”
Further, the ACLJ contends it is not necessary to prove intimidation is happening, as the issue is a matter of Constitutional protection of free speech and the political process. And now that the case – which was decided against traditional marriage supporters at the appellate level – has gone to the Supreme Court, the upcoming ruling could affect voters in all 50 states.
“The Supreme Court has an opportunity to correct a damaging decision that threatens the constitutional protections afforded to political speech,” said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the ACLJ, in a statement. “The process of initiating legislation is constitutionally protected as well. To force petitioners who oppose controversial ballot measures to disclose their identities as well as personal information is not only wrong, but violates core political speech rights protected by the First Amendment.”
“There is no meaningful distinction between signing a referendum petition and voting,” the ACLJ brief explains. “Whether the citizen touches a screen, presses a lever or signs his name, he is participating in the political process – expressing his convictions on the political issue at hand. The right to secret ballot – ‘the hard-won right to vote one’s conscience without fear of retaliation,’ McIntyre, 514 U.S. at 343, – is, of course, one of the most precious rights.”
“Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority,” the brief continues, quoting a 1995 Supreme Court case. “It thus exemplifies the purpose behind the Bill of Rights, and of the First Amendment in particular: to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation – and their ideas from suppression – at the hand of an intolerant society.”
Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed, the defendant in the case, told the Seattle Times that Washington is defending its public-disclosure law as a matter of government transparency: “We welcome an opportunity to go to the highest court in the land to defend Washington citizens’ strong desire for transparency, openness and accountability in government, and the public’s belief that our state and local public documents must be available for public inspection.”
Arguments before the court are scheduled for April, with a decision possible as soon as June.
“It is not surprising,” Reed said, “that the Supreme Court would be intrigued by a nationally-watched case dealing with disclosure, First Amendment considerations and public discourse during the Internet era.”
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