The Supreme Court ruled in an 8-1 decision (Clarence Thomas dissenting) that in the case of Doe V. Reed, Reed is the winner! Most people have no idea what Doe V. Reed is outside of the state of Washington, but the decision is going to change the way quite a few things operate inside and outside of the beltway. Here’s a quick primer on Doe V. Reed, and then we’ll take a look at why it is such an important decision. Because a group of gay people fought back through the court system as it was designed to be used, they changed the referendum process in America.
A group called Protect Marriage Washington, which is a conservative group, worked very hard to block any legislation that would afford same sex couples the right to marry or even enjoy most domestic partner benefits. In their last rally to defeat Referendum 71, they claim to have collected 138,000 signatures supporting their stance. The number seemed a bit high, so they were challenged to provide the names on the petition so they could be verified as valid. Protect Marriage Washington refused citing that names on petitions are protected and if they ever got out, gays would threaten, harass, or perhaps turn violent toward anyone discovered to have signed it.
What the Supreme Court found in their deliberations was that signing a petition is not a form of speech, therefore it has no constitutional protections as such. No person signing a petition has any reasonable right to expect that their signature remain anonymous. In simple terms, there is no shield law for signing a document the nature of a petition, once you sign it is open to the public.
Sure this is nice for gay rights advocates in Washington that they scored a win, but in reality the referendum’s passage will change a few other things in the future. It will be hard for anyone to doctor a petition and get away with it – and more importantly escape fraud charges that can carry both fines and a prison sentence. Depending on interpretation, it could be classified as a felony. The implications are far reaching – and that is not just in regards to things that have to do with gays – it touches everyone!
This means transparency the like that has not been seen before. Yes knowing who signed petitions is good, but this plays into campaign financing as well. There is no longer any means to hide the identity of “small donors” meaning names of all donors must be produced on demand which can cut down on fraud. It means the referendum process changes because now both sides know exactly who they are up against.
Protect Marriage Washington is not happy about this. Their fear isn’t really attacks from gays, their fear is that a lot of people that support them now with signatures – and more importantly money – may not if they know that their actions which impact the legislative process are made public. If you believe in something enough to put your name and/or money behind, you should believe in it enough and be proud enough to do it in the open instead of – dare it be said – in the closet. Mature adults disagree all the time and things get worked out rationally. It is the immature that hide and throw rocks only to cry foul when discovered.