Paul Jacob

This Thursday in a federal court in Washington state, U.S. District Judge Benjamin Settle will, ahem, settle an important question. (Come on, who could resist?)

The matter concerns Referendum 71, a petition to put the domestic partnership law Washington’s legislature passed last April to a statewide popular vote. Should the NOs prevail, the vote would reverse its enactment.

Supporters of the new law describe it as “granting all the legal benefits and protections of marriage (save the legal title) to same-sex partners.” Now the referendum will stay the “everything but marriage” law from going into effect until the state’s voters can determine its fate this November.

The adjoining federal court case has nothing to do with the provisions of this particular referendum, and yet, it has everything to do with the volatility of the debate over same-sex marriage and gay rights. Witness a public policy train wreck: crashing the good government ideals of disclosure and transparency against the political values of encouraging citizen involvement and protecting privacy.

Specifically, Judge Settle must resolve whether Washington state’s Public Disclosure Act, requiring the Secretary of State to publically disclose the signers of petitions, violates First Amendment protections for voters signing a petition.

That is, does it violate the rights of those signers not wanting to be threatened or intimidated . . .

“There have been few precedents on whether the names and addresses of people who sign petitions should be considered a public record,” wrote Ballot Access News editor, Richard Winger, recently. “Some states provide by law that the records are not public, but most states do not.”

Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.