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Washington's Referendum 71 petition signature debate continues

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October 5, 2011

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By Bailey Ludlam

OLYMPIA, Washington: Two years following the voter approval of Washington Referendum 71 in 2009, the measure returned to court to debate the release of signature petitions on October 3, 2011.

Referendum 71 was an effort launched by the Washington Values Alliance to overturn Senate Bill 5688 through the veto referendum process. The official campaign in favor of placing the referendum on the ballot was Protect Marriage Washington. SB 5688 grants state registered domestic partners in Washington all rights, responsibilities, and obligations granted by or imposed by state law on married couples. Referendum 71 was approved by voters with a 53.15% vote. The law went into effect as previously planned.

On June 24, 2010 the United States Supreme Court ruled 8-1 in Doe v. Reed enforcing Washington's Public Records Act; making petition signatures public.[1] Doe v. Reed addressed the issue of whether signing a petition for a ballot measure is a private, political act or whether the names of those signers can be made public.

Despite the high court's ruling, the specific release of Washington Referendum 71 petition names remained pending. According to state officials current laws exist to protect people who are in danger of being threatened.[2][3]

A month following the ruling, anti-gay marriage activists renewed their efforts to ban the release of R-71 petitions. Activists cite examples of harassment, intimidation and threats to anti-gay marriage activists in California in 2008 (the state of California does not release petitions) and perceived threats to sponsors in Washington. On September 7, 2010, Thurston County Superior Court Judge Richard Hicks lifted the ban on releasing initiative petitions under the state’s Public Records Act. His decision, however did not allow the release of Referendum 71 petitions.

U.S. District Court in Tacoma, Washington heard the case on October 3, 2011.[4][5]

U.S. District Judge Benjamin Settle is expected to rule on the case in two weeks. He will determine whether R-71 petitions should be permanently sealed from public access.[6]

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