William James

William James
We must get by on what truth we have today, and be willing to call it error tomorrow.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

On Privacy Rights And Votes Regarding Gay Marriage

The comment was made:

"In Washington state, a group called Protect Marriage Washington obtained enough signatures on petitions to place Referendum-71 on this fall's ballot. The Secretary of State certified the referendum earlier this month. It seeks to overturn SB 5688, Washington's recently-enacted domestic partnership law. Two groups supporting gay rights, Whosigned.org and KnowThyNeighbor.org sought copies of the referendum petitions under Washington's Public Records Act, intending to post on the Internet the name and address of every petition signer, apparently with the intent to get gay rights supporters to contact the signers to complain. In John Doe #1 v. Reed, (WD WA, Sept. 10, 2009), a Washington federal district court granted a preliminary injunction against any public release of documents showing the names and contact information of individuals who signed petitions. The court concluded:

Plaintiffs have established that it is likely that supporting the referral of a referendum is protected political speech, which includes the component of the right to speak anonymously.... In light of the State?s own verification process and the State?s own case law, at this time the Court is not persuaded that full public disclosure of referendum petitions is necessary as "an important check on the integrity of the referendum election process." ... Therefore, the Court finds that Plaintiffs have established that it is likely that the Public Records Act is not narrowly tailored to achieve the compelling governmental interest of preserving the integrity of the referendum process.

AP reported on the decision on Friday. According to Friday's Seattle Times, Washington's Attorney General will appeal the decision to the 9th Circuit.

And the gay rights folks are blaming this all on...you guessed it...the Mormons (emphases added):

James Bopp, Jr. would rather people stop asking questions about who is funding and supporting the anti-gay marriage movement in America, but pesky gay rights groups keep asking.

Bopp represents clients in two similar cases that seek to keep supporters of anti-gay marriage bans secret.

A federal district judge in Tacoma ruled Thursday in Bopp's favor. At stake are the identities of some 120,000 Washington State residents who supported the effort to put a gay-inclusive domestic partnership law up for a vote in November.

If approved, Referendum 71 ? the ?everything but marriage? law ? would give gay and lesbian couples all the rights of marriage. It is the second expansion to the state's 2007 domestic partnership law.

In his ruling, Judge Benjamin H. Settle said signing a petition amounted to federally protected political speech, and that the identities of signers to a petition are ?irrelevant to the voter.?


Bopp said his concern was for the safety of petition signers: ?We're not talking about removing the transparency of government. We're talking about whether citizens should be outed in their participation in our democracy.?

Gay rights groups in several states have previously published the names of signers to anti-gay petitions on the Internet, including in Arkansas, California and Massachusetts. Backers of such tactics insist they only want to create a sense of social responsibility by fostering a dialogue between signers and gay and lesbian friends, neighbors or co-workers.

Fred Karger, founder of Californians Against Hate, says the challenges against transparency laws are part of a larger attempt to toss out all reporting requirements.

?They [anti-gay groups] have created front groups that can do their bidding in banning same-sex marriage throughout the United States. The Mormon Church gave $1.2 million to ban gay marriage in Alaska and Hawaii, and got caught. Ever since they work through front groups to try and hide their direct involvement.?

?They are trying to toss out all reporting requirements ? so the Church and its members can continue to operate in secrecy,? he said in an email.
After Thursday's win, Bopp called the judge's ruling a ?welcome step toward protecting citizens who simply want to participate in our democratic processes and have their public policy positions considered by the people. No one should have to suffer vandalism and death threats just because they support government protection of traditional marriage.?

I'm struggling to figure out a legitimate reason for "outing" the folks who signed the petition. The explanation given above ("Backers of such tactics insist they only want to create a sense of social responsibility by fostering a dialogue between signers and gay and lesbian friends, neighbors or co-workers...") just doesn't wash.

This "outing" thing happened last year in California regarding Prop 8. See, e.g., here (emphases added):

The other day I posted about supporters of Proposition 8 wanting their campaign fund disclosures to be sealed from the public. In my post I said that I didn?t think that was a good idea. The importance of transparency in government and politics is too important to be set aside, and it sets a dangerous precedent whereby other campaigns could request that their donors be made secret as well

But I did say that I empathized with the Proposition 8 campaign (full disclosure: I support gay marriage) given the behavior of certain ?gay rights? activists. This latest news cements that empathy:

Radical opponents of Proposition 8, the proposition that democratically amended the California constitution to define marriage as the union of one man with one woman, have used a variety of tools to alter, and then reject, the popular will of Californians. They tried running vile ads that unfairly targeted groups such as Mormons. When that failed, they resorted to violence and brutal assaults

And now, they?ve crossed the line once again. They have posted maps online that very clearly show the addresses of those who donated money to the Prop 8 cause (supporting traditional marriage), including even small donors who gave $50 or less.

For better or worse, the people of California have spoken on the issue of gay marriage in a fair election. Intimidation and thuggish behavior aren?t how citizens of a free society react to a defeat like that.

The proper response is to keep fighting for your issue. Educate your fellow citizens. Explain why they?re wrong. Don?t try to ruin their lives in petty revenge plots motivated by frustration and anger. That will only solidify their beliefs and ultimately do more damage to your own movement than anything the opposition could do.

Here are some quotes I found online at the time, and which supported the idea of this sort of "outing" activity (originally posted here):

Zoom in, from San Fran to Los Angeles, from Sacramento to San Diego, and everywhere in between, and find your local neighbors who have a problem with civil rights.
Those a******s. They are getting what they once asked for…..recognition and accolades for supporting hate.

They can go to hell and i only wish we would have documented in photos all the jerks parading around with the prop 8 signs and photos of their houses, cars and kids playing in the homobigot yards.

They are running for the cover of darkness which is exactly where their souless and hateful hearts reside.
I live in an area rather light in pro Prop 8 donations (Oakland), but one woman just around the corner from me did. Well, I'll probably check out what her house looks like and stop there, but oh, the fantasies of mischief!

Journalist Mark Hemingway also weighed in with an astute point:

We Know Where You Live [Mark Hemingway]

Here's a handy map Prop 8 opponents have put together showing you where donors to prop 8 live. You have to love the "Jump to San Francisco, Salt Lake City , or Orange County" feature. If someone put together a map showing where all the gay people in the neighborhood live that would properly be called an implicit threat, but this is altogether different, right?

Interesting stuff."

To which I responded:

I think the right to anonymous speech is protected under the First Amendment. The right to vote anonymously is somewhat of a different question, but the result may very well be the same. The competing concerns are, as I see it, corruption and fraud on the one hand (if there is a right to vote anonymously), and the threat of undue retaliation (including physical threats or violence) on the other hand (if there is no right to vote anonymously). Taking everything in balance, I think that people who vote solely in their capacity as private citizens ought to have the right to do so anonymously, provided that there are reasonable controls in place to guard against voter fraud. I think that in this country, which has a comparatively low level of corruption, that is feasible.

I can't help but also to think about how much I wish it were possible for members of the LDS faith to cast official but anonymous votes on issues concerning the church and its doctrine. I'm not saying the church has to be a democracy, but in my own opinion, there is something fundamentally wrong with the idea that members are not free to speak their mind openly on various topics without risking church sanctions. If I were designing an organization with the goal of making sure it was out of touch with its members and most likely to err, I might do just that.

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