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Gay rights group to publish names of R-71 petition signers

Elaine Thompson
In 2009 Ref. 71 asked voters to approve or reject granting registered domestic partners additional state rights previously given only to married couples. It was approved with 53 percent of the vote.

Washington voters who signed an anti-domestic partnership petition in 2009 can expect their names to appear online within a month. That's the word Tuesday from a Massachusetts-based gay rights group called "Know Thy Neighbor."

Referendum 71 was a failed effort by opponents of gay marriage to repeal Washington's "everything but marriage" domestic partnership law. Now, following a protracted legal battle, a federal judge has ordered the petitions be made public.

"Know Thy Neighbor" plans to publish the 130,000-plus names in an online searchable database. The group has done this before in Arkansas, Florida and Massachusetts.

Director Tom Lang says it allows gay people and their allies to search for individual signers they know and confront them. He gives examples of stories from other states.

"About people who've been in people's weddings parties and they've signed, people in families where the grandmother signed knowing darned well that her grandson was gay," Lang says. "These are the types of conversations that are being had."

Lang denies this is a campaign of intimidation or harassment. But that's exactly what Protect Marriage Washington attorney James Bopp Jr. has argued all along. He’s already filed an appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court.

"Well, our plan is to do everything we can do to protect people's right to participate in our democratic process without being subject to death threats and threats of violence and actual violence," Bopp says.

Bopp points to what happened in California around Proposition 8. In court he introduced evidence that opponents of gay marriage were subjected to vitriolic threats, vandalism and other harassment.

Lang counters there's no evidence his online databases have been used to target people maliciously.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy as well as the Washington State legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia." Prior to joining the Northwest News Network, Austin worked as a television reporter in Seattle, Portland and Boise. Austin is a graduate of Garfield High School in Seattle and Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut. Austin’s reporting has been recognized with awards from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors, Public Radio News Directors Incorporated and the Society of Professional Journalists.
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