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The Courts The Internet

Legal War For WA State Sunshine Law 1364

joeszilagyi writes "In a major battle in Washington State, anti-gay rights groups created and got R-71 on the 2009 election ballot. This is a public initiative to put same-sex civil unions up for public vote. The real legal war then erupted: activists created WhoSigned.org to take advantage of WA state's Public Records Act, and put the names of all people who publicly endorsed R-71 on a public, SEO-optimized website. Lawsuits quickly followed, and today it reached the United States Supreme Court, in a matter of months. The records appear to have always been public, but have only been available in digital form since 2006. An assault on civil rights, an assault on marriage, or an assault on sunshine laws and freedom of information?"
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Legal War For WA State Sunshine Law

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  • by plague3106 ( 71849 ) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @08:39AM (#29806339)

    I think you have a ways to go though before intimidation or especially violenc gets called up for use. I don't think we've quite reached that level.

    Personally I think I have great way to solve this problem; eliminate completely the concept of legal marriage. Its not needed, and the issue is causing us to waste time better spent on other work. Make it a purely religous or spiritial cermemony, that means nothing legally.

  • by XxtraLarGe ( 551297 ) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @08:56AM (#29806499) Journal

    Personally I think I have great way to solve this problem; eliminate completely the concept of legal marriage. Its not needed, and the issue is causing us to waste time better spent on other work. Make it a purely religous or spiritial cermemony, that means nothing legally.

    That would be the ideal, but that would defeat the reason gays want marriage in the first place. If all they were looking for was a symbolic ceremony of their life together, they'd just go down to their local Unitarian Universalist building and get married. They want marriage specifically for the legal protections: so they can force employers to provide health insurance, get estate rights when their partners die, tax breaks, etc. Of course, there's no reason why much of this couldn't be done on a contractual basis in the absence of legal marriage, but the state always finds a way to mess things up and make things difficult for people.

    I'm sure that I will be modded down because it will perceived it as an anti-homosexual comment, but it's not. I believe in the equality before the law for all people, I simply don't think we should have the laws that make this a battle in the first place.

  • by bumfuckedegypt ( 1384377 ) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @09:01AM (#29806547)
    In Missouri, federal funding was issued to the ADAP program (AIDS Drug Assistance Program) to provide life giving medicine to people who could otherwise not afford the $4000 a month in medicine bills. Various groups opposed to gays and people with AIDS (including the goobers who think it all a fake disease) would often times use sunshine laws to intimidate such people who received the benefits. Meetings were held to help determine the best way to help people with the meds money and often times, the recipients of the funds were invited to attend since the decisions made impacted their benefits, health, life etc... People with these groups would find out where the meetings were with sunshine law request and then come and photograph everyone there, write down their license plates, etc... They would then publish the information on the internet and in some cases local newspapers. This led to people losing their jobs (unfortunately, in Missouri, it's legal to fire someone based on pretty much anything.) The sunshine law was used for the harassment and intimidation of people. It eventually meant that people stopped coming to meetings. Some of them had families harassed and lost everything due to this harassment. The state now just unilaterally decides for people what they can and cant have. Often turning people away that are in dire need of this medicine to stay healthy. I do believe that sunshine laws have their place but there should be limits. Using them to harass people is wrong and it should be illegal.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @09:07AM (#29806613)

    I am all for treating these signatures like votes, off the public record. keep them private.

    I guess I am not, if I can't verify that the vote actually passed I would at least like to be able to verify that the petition was indeed signed by the required number of citizens. Too much 'black box' and pretty soon we aren't a democracy anymore.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @09:10AM (#29806637)

    Its about benefits not rights. You have a right to enter into a private contract with anyone of both parties freewill and of age.

    This is not about the right of marriage that gays have. They have that right.

    Its about the licensing via the Government marriage license for Government benefits i.e. taxes more favorable insurance requirements and so on and so forth.
    Frankly so away with marriage licensing altogether and requirements on spouse coverage as move to a flat tax or quasi flat tax even and then issue would die.
    No more children on your tax cut. Start medicare/FICA and to start at $15K rather than 0.

    If insurance companies want to cover same-sex partner etc the can. Oh fix healthcare by govt. getting out of and not more into.

    Both the right and left can't figure less Govt not more would fix this. Actually they have but its bad for "business" so to speak.

  • by HangingChad ( 677530 ) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @09:11AM (#29806653) Homepage

    that their signature remained secret, however no one should have to put up with an organized intimidation process which is the new method of choice.

    This wasn't a ballot, I'm not sure where the expectation of privacy comes from. You could argue that trying to create a separate but equal set of rules for a minority population is also organized intimidation. It just depends on which side of the intimidation you're on.

    As it pertains gays, there do seem to be a lot of people determined to see they never get any kind of legal recognition. The people and businesses supporting those legal efforts want some kind of cover, so they don't really have to take a public stand. But if Boeing was trying to fund some kind of anti-union ballot initiative, wouldn't you want to know? Doesn't the public voting on an initiative deserve to know who's behind it? How is this really any different?

    If you take out "gay" and substitute any other minority population, this looks a whole lot different. "...anti-Hispanic rights groups created and got R-71 on the 2009 election ballot." Or "... anti-Jewish rights groups created and got R-71 on the 2009 election ballot." In that light it starts looking pretty damn ugly.

    Overall, I think we're all farther ahead with transparency in the process. If that ballot effort is taking a shot at a minority population, then you can expect them not to like it.

  • Just Fear (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Fujisawa Sensei ( 207127 ) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @09:39AM (#29807031) Journal

    These are the same people, or at least same mentality, of who live their lives in fear that the Russians are going to come over here and take their bibles away.

  • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) * on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @09:48AM (#29807171) Homepage Journal

    The problem isn't discrimination against gays, it's discrimination against single people whether gay or straight. As a divorced straight guy I face the same discrimination as any gay.

    Why is discrimination based on marital status legal? It's not only legal, it's institutionalized; married paople pay fewer taxes. Take away discrimination against singles and the problem of "gay marriage" goes away completely.

    Why should government have anything to do with marriage? Isn't marriage a religion thing? Doesn't the Constitution protect both religion and its absense? Government should have nothing to do with marriage. I should not need a license, for instance.

  • by Tacvek ( 948259 ) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @10:05AM (#29807409) Journal

    Signing a petition does not mean that you agree with the views of the petitioner, it just means that you agree that the issue should be brought to a wider vote to decide the matter. I've known plenty of people who would sign pretty much any referendum or initiative in the states that have that process. In their view, it just airs more discussion and opportunities for democracy.

    That may the biggest issue of all.

    Is it completely implausible that some of the petition signers actually support gay rights, and were pretty confident (perhaps naively) that if it came to a vote, allowing same-sex civil unions would be upheld, making the matter settled?

    The assumption that all signers actually supported ending same-sex civil unions is the real problem. If the website in question gave that impression, then defamation lawsuits (or perhaps even libel lawsuits) may be fully justified.

  • by mpe ( 36238 ) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @10:25AM (#29807721)
    Name one intellectually honest reason for someone to oppose same-sex marriage that isn't rooted in hate.

    Someone who is against state involvement in people's relationships might well oppose all marriage.
  • by rantingkitten ( 938138 ) <(kitten) (at) (mirrorshades.org)> on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @10:35AM (#29807875) Homepage
    People who are opposed to same-sex marriage don't necessarily "hate on gays." They're just... opposed to same-sex marriage.

    Other than pure spite, what possible incentive or reasoning would someone have for being opposed to gay marriage?

    I've only seen a few arguments and they're all either hateful or just plain goofy.

    One is "It doesn't fit with the tradition of marriage!" That goes into the "goofy" category; marriage was originally a way of joining two estates to secure more or better property rights in a family, or for bartering (your son can have my daughter's hand in marriage if you give me three goats and a cow). Children were raised by the mother, the father if he stuck around, and the community at large. We come from tribal hunter-gatherer ancestors, fellas -- they didn't have all this wedding-and-marriage stuff.

    Many cultures have accepted, or continue to accept bigamy, arranged marriages, forced marriage ("shotgun wedding" type, or slavery type), and other things that we wouldn't consider "traditional". It is only in our fairly modern, WASPy world that we think "marriage is between one man, one woman, and for love only" -- but there is absolutely nothing "traditional" about that.

    The other main argument always revolves around some aspect of "the gay agenda" or, less commonly, "the liberal agenda". Apparently all these gays only want to get married so they can adopt children, turn the children gay (probably using their mystic gay voodoo, passed gayly down from one gay generation to the next), and perpetuate their gayness. Or something. The "gay agenda" or "think of the children" argument is so left-field I can't even really figure out what the hell they're talking about, but it gets brought up every time.

    If someone could come up with a rational reason why gays shouldn't get married, and it actually made sense, wasn't some bigoted crap, and wasn't off in the loony bin, then maybe there'd be some merit to saying "I don't hate gays but I oppose gay marriage." I, however, have yet to see a rational argument, so I ask again: Why would anyone be opposed to gays getting married, except for the sick pleasure of denying someone else a right that most others enjoy?
  • by Drummergeek0 ( 1513771 ) <tony@[ ]d.com ['3bd' in gap]> on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @10:36AM (#29807881)

    Use something else.

    Marriage is a term defined by the church and I don't think any union in the government's eye should be called marriage anyway. This should already happen due to Separation of Church and State. This goes for Man and Woman, Man and Man, & Woman and Woman. The government should have no right to determine what the guidelines for civil union are anyway. To the government we are just tax paying numbers, anyway.

    The main point for most homosexual civil unions are to retrieve the same benefits that heterosexual couples receive. Most are not looking to recognized by the church, only the state, and the government should not be able to deny those rights based on religious/bigotted beliefs.

    IMHO that is one of the biggest problem with our government is that so many religious beliefs are used in making these kind of decisions. Look at Pro-Life vs Pro-Choice. Basic human rights should allow for Pro-Choice (with certain guidelines, but things like the morning after pill, and early term abortion should be allowed).

    My views may be tinted by beliefs, or lack thereof, but logically it seems that because of Separation of Church and State that this should not be an issue.

    Just my two cents.

  • by EWAdams ( 953502 ) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @10:40AM (#29807935) Homepage

    You want to keep your opinion secret? Then express it inside the voting booth. When you make it public, you have to answer for the consequences, which may include other people pointing out that you're a complete idiot.

    Petitions are public actions, voting is a secret action. Simple as that. If you aren't prepared to stand up for your opinion, keep your mouth shut -- or write an anonymous flame on the Internet that nobody will care about.

  • by samjam ( 256347 ) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @10:42AM (#29807967) Homepage Journal

    All the real arguments are about is the word "marriage".

    I don't mind same-sex unions having all the rights the marriages have, in fact I think the nominal "marriage rights" (as opposed to marriage rites) should be available to any pair, even to a mother and her carer-daughter when they enjoy a regular non-sexual mother-daughter relationship. (In the UK a few years ago,. gay rights activists opposed an amendment which would extend rights to other pair relationships like mother-daughter).

    I just don't think the word "marriage" applies, I think it is redefining the word marriage and that is what I am against.

    Anyone can disagree with me who will, but we're arguing about the legal meaning of a word, not the equal rights or entitlements that would through any registered arrangement or union.

  • by 42Penguins ( 861511 ) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @10:53AM (#29808143)
    The state has a sunshine law. They used the sunshine law. They shared the results.

    I don't see what is potentially damaging about people knowing you signed it anyway. It doesn't make you a gay-bashing red-necked evil conservative. In fact, it could simply mean that you prefer a direct vote to a vote of representatives.
  • Honestly... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by e-scetic ( 1003976 ) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @10:56AM (#29808175)

    If you ask me, marriage is one of the dumbest inventions of mankind. It was invented by religion, it rarely has anything to do with love in my experience.

    Why on earth would you put arbitrary boundaries and conditions on love? Who are you to dictate to anyone who they may or may not love, when, whyfor and whatever? Moreover, who are you to tell your lover they can't love someone else?

    But forget all that - why enter an "agreement" where both of you have only the vaguest notion of what the other thinks it entails? Way to set yourself up for all sorts of problems.

    No, more...why are you marrying THAT PERSON? Fuck, they just want the ring, house, car, 1.5 kids, it's the status they want, because it's fashionable to be married, or there are financial benefits to it, you're merely secondary to that, collateral.

    It's a pathetically boring script - A meets B, A and B date for a while, A and B get engaged, A and B get married, get a house, car, pop out some kids, etc. Because, well, because that's just how it's done, how everyone else does it, because, y'know?

  • by skine ( 1524819 ) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @11:16AM (#29808521)

    Just because they don't want their names to be seen does not mean that they are ashamed.

    Perhaps they're afraid of what might happen to them personally if their name is found.

    For example, if a southerner had signed a petition favoring the right of black people to vote, they would damn well hope that it was anonymous. Not out of embarrassment, but out of personal safety.

    Anonymity is the better option in these situations, since it provides an accurate count of how many people actually agree with the cause, not the number of people who will openly admit to it.

  • by moxley ( 895517 ) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @11:29AM (#29808769)

    The thing about this that really makes it so sad is that a lot of the time the politicians and well known religious spokesmen who are the MOST outspoken against ga rights, and the most fervent in their anti-gay votes and speeches are, more often than not, actually gay themselves, but are in the closet and can't deal with it.

    I don't think that making public records available is a threat. If the people are that concerned about it being known that they support discrimination, then maybe they shouldn;t have signed it.

    It's not like people are making threats. Now if this was private information that was NOT public and it was being released, I would have a problem with that.

  • Re:So? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Pig Hogger ( 10379 ) <pig.hoggerNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @11:40AM (#29808993) Journal

    It seeks to intimidate people into not supporting cause they believe in, and to open up their lives to harassment and ostracism because they have gone against societies current grain.

    And, pray tell, how is this any different from the ordinary, mundane, run-of-the-mill gay-bashing gays are routinely subject to???

  • by Runaway1956 ( 1322357 ) * on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @11:52AM (#29809219) Homepage Journal

    Sorry, you're way off base. A petition is NOT an attempt to influence a legislator. A petition is a CALL FOR A VOTE. Once the issue is on the ballot, then EVERYONE GETS A VOTE. The legislators don't get a say, as legislators - they only get one vote, the same as every other citizen who exercises their right to vote.

    You are obviously confusing a lobbyist with a citizen who signs a petition. Lobbying efforts aren't even transparent (despite laws to the contrary) so why should a petition be any more transparent?

  • by lwsimon ( 724555 ) <lyndsy@lyndsysimon.com> on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @11:53AM (#29809249) Homepage Journal

    Yes, it is rather horrible.

    The parent poster and I agree that those legal protections should not exist in the first place. Rather than extend them to another group, we seek to abolish those protections entirely.

    Historically, marriage licenses were required only to marry someone who your were otherwise prohibited from marrying - such as someone of another race. With the civil rights movement, marriage licenses began to be required by all, rather than simply abolishing them.

    The system we have today has its roots in racism, and is now being used to discriminate against another class of people. Instead of seeking inclusion for those people, how about getting rid of the system that has historically been used to discriminate?

  • Re:Petition - Voting (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Runaway1956 ( 1322357 ) * on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @11:58AM (#29809353) Homepage Journal

    You seem to be confusing lobbying efforts with the signing of a petition. Walking into your congressman's office is LOBBYING. In that case, you are attempting to influence your congressman.

    In the case of a petition, some minimum number of people voice an opinion that an issue should be VOTED ON, BY THE PEOPLE.

    There is a process to check the validity of the petitioners. Mickey Mouse has signed petitions, and he has been discarded from the petition list, all over the country. Once the validity of signatures is verified, there is no good reason to save that data. No matter the value of the issue, or which side you are on, once the petition is declared valid, the issue goes onto a ballot, and ALL REGISTERED VOTERS will have the same opportunity to express THEIR opinion.

    It's part of the voting process, and should be protected.

  • by cheddarlump ( 834186 ) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @11:58AM (#29809357)
    This entire firestorm is a smokescreen for the real issue: in a democratically elected representative republic, our representatives create laws that are either voted into existance, or dissapear. I'm a conservative, and a resident of WA. I believe that the public petition should be public, as all it does is bring the initiative to the voter. It's conceivable that somebody signed the petition that doesn't agree with R71, just to have it brought before the voter and be dismissed. The entire gay marriage argument is moot, as this ref. has nothing to do with gay marriage, but civil unions. If the gay community wants the laws and traditions of our state to change, they need to change enough minds to make it happen on the ballot, or move to where it's already legal/in place. My beliefs as well as those who disagree with me are irrelevant in our country and state, as beliefs aren't law. You want it changed, change it the legal way. I'm not a bigot, I moved here to raise my children in a way that I want, around people that think like I do, because it's a free country and I sill have the right to do that. I chose this area for a reason, and there are plenty of places in this nation that are not like this place. I didn't stay in a highly liberal area and try to change their minds. I guess my point is that if you don't like the way things are where you are, try to change them the legal way or move. Why is it impossible to believe that there are always going to be different types of people in the country who can't agree on everything? Is it really wrong to live around those who believe likewise by choice, instead of trying to strong-arm those around you into adopting your way of life? Even as a conservative, I make no judgement calls on how others wish to live their lives, I simply choose to live mine differently, and away from those who I disagree with.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @01:14PM (#29810725)
    Reminds me of a local petition that went around to stop some construction project. A small group managed to get the required signatures to delay the privately funded project (but approved by city counsel) and indirectly raised the costs. Once the petition list was made public it was found the first 10 people on the list where dead and well over 100 where people in senior homes who had significantly reduce mental capacity. Some 15% of the people on this list where disqualified when they stopped looking into the petition. Sadly it delayed the project by a month to work it out. In the mean time the same group started to circulate a second petition that was vague and very poorly written. Once again it was thrown out after another month delay. After their third interruption the group was barred by the city. The ‘leader’ of the group tried unsuccessfully again to create another group and circulate another petition. BTW the group consisted of 7 people and delayed a privately funded and city counsel approved project by 6+ months.
  • Re:Turn the tables (Score:4, Interesting)

    by spun ( 1352 ) <loverevolutionar ... m ['oo.' in gap]> on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @03:50PM (#29813213) Journal

    Show me where in the New Testament homosexuality, including lesbianism, is forbidden. I'll wait while you look that up. I'll want a passage that restricts all forms of homosexuality, not just certain types of sexual practices. Otherwise, we'll need to make some exceptions.

    You do understand that people have differences of opinion over what scripture means, right? Luther thought one thing, the Pope thought something else. Who decides who is right? Last I checked, God doesn't seem interested in making those calls, so it is up to fallible human beings to make the decisions as to the correct interpretation of scripture.

    I already mentioned religions that approve of gay marriage. I assume you would be fine with religions that approve of it performing it and calling it 'marriage.' If not, please explain why fundamentalist Muslims should not be allowed to tell you that your wife needs to wear a bhurka at her marriage. Either you want to dictate what other religions consider marriage, or you don't, and if you do want that, it can work against you far easier than it can work for you.

    I can't 'show you the rights that would be lost' because very few states even have domestic partnership laws. Those that do, do not confer all of the rights of marriage. As far as I'm concerned, the major right that is lost is the right to practice your own religion. If you say that NO RELIGION can practice gay marriage, no matter what their beliefs, you are limiting my religious freedom and infringing on my rights.

    You may change your stance now, thank you very much.

    Freedom of religion is enshrined in the Constitution. My religion recognizes gay marriage. You have no right to limit my practice of religion, according to the Constitution, and my religion practices gay marriage, and calls it marriage. You have no right to limit my freedom of religion, get it? And you have no right to say what is and what is not a legitimate religion, says so in the Constitution.

    I'll be awaiting your change of stance with bated breath.

  • by geekoid ( 135745 ) <dadinportland&yahoo,com> on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @07:29PM (#29816387) Homepage Journal

    Except the demeaning rebut was deserved. The post he was replying to was full of logical flaws, lies and nonsense.

    “Ridicule is the only weapon that can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them.”

    -Thomas Jefferson (on a different topic)

To write good code is a worthy challenge, and a source of civilized delight. -- stolen and paraphrased from William Safire