Gay-rights group wants to name petition signers
Gay-rights group WhoSigned.org plans to create a searchable database of names and addresses of people who sign petitions asking the Legislature to put the new domestic-partnership measure before state voters in November.
Seattle Times staff reporter
A gay-rights group is promising to "out" some people in a way, but in this case it won't mean exposing closeted gays.
Instead, members of Washington-based WhoSigned.org plan to shine a light on those who sign petitions for Referendum 71, an attempt by religious and conservative groups to overturn the state's 2009 Domestic Partner Expansion Bill.
When it takes effect July 26, the measure will give same-sex couples in Washington state the same rights and benefits as married couples.
Partnered with the gay-activist group KnowThyNeighbor.org, which has done the same thing in Oregon, Florida and Arkansas, WhoSigned.org plans to create a searchable database of names and addresses of people who sign petitions asking the Legislature to put the new domestic-partnership measure before voters in November.
Names on petitions are a matter of public record, but only after petitions have been certified by the secretary of state, which, in this case would be midsummer. If there aren't enough signatures, the names do not become public.
Larry Stickney of the political-action committee Protect Marriage Washington, which is behind the Referendum 71 petitions, said, "This seems to be a typical pattern developing around the country where the homosexual lobby employs hostile, undemocratic, intimidating tactics wherever their interests or intent are challenged.
"They take the politics of personal destruction to new levels. I am a personal recipient of dozens of obscene and threatening e-mails and phone calls since we filed this."
But WhoSigned.org spokesman Brian Murphy of Seattle said the purpose of making the petition names accessible isn't to incite harassment. He pointed out that names of people in domestic partnerships are already accessible on the Washington Secretary of State's Web site (www.secstate.wa.gov/corps/domesticpartnerships/).
"The main thing we want to have is a conversation," Murphy said. "We expect that people will go to the site, see names of people they know, people in their neighborhood, and say, 'Oh, so they signed that.'
"We expect them not to act at that moment, but to bump into them at grocery store, at the soccer field or mowing the lawn, and that's when we expect the conversation to come up.
"We want to be able to talk to them about what impact it [Referendum 71] has on our families. It's an opportunity to ask them, 'What would you do if the same thing was being done to your family?' — if rights were being taken away from them."
Josh Friedes, of Equal Rights Washington (ERW), said, "I have to believe that almost everybody involved in the gay civil-rights movement understands that harassment and violence is never acceptable and that we categorically condemn any attempt to harass voters who are trying to exercise their rights."
Unconnected with WhoSigned.org, ERW spearheaded the lobbying effort for the domestic-partnership bill.
Friedes said that WhoSigned.org may be a distraction from the conversation about equal rights and that more than 25,000 people have taken a "Decline to sign" pledge against the referendum.
Organizers of the referendum have until July 25 to collect 120,577 signatures on the petitions, which Stickney says are to be in print today. He said backers of Referendum 71 have "lined up thousands" in advance who will sign it.
Mark Rahner: 206-464-8259 or email@example.com
Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company
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