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Originally published Thursday, October 15, 2009 at 12:07 AM

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Both sides make case on R-71 signatures

Supporters and foes of gay domestic partnerships await a federal ruling from a three-judge panel on whether petitions for Washington's Referendum 71 should be made public after initial arguments were made on Wednesday.

Supporters and foes of gay domestic partnerships await a federal ruling from a three-judge panel on whether petitions for Washington's Referendum 71 should be made public after initial arguments were made on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, initiative activist Tim Eyman won a temporary block of the release of signatures in support of initiatives — many of them his — in state court.

On the domestic-partnerships front, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments Wednesday morning in Pasadena, Calif., on whether signatures collected to repeal a domestic-partnership law passed by the Washington Legislature during the last session should be released.

R-71 asks voters either to approve or reject a new law expanding domestic partnerships for gay couples.

The referendum's conservative sponsors say they want to keep their signed petitions out of public view because they fear harassment from gay-rights supporters.

A federal judge in Tacoma granted the sponsors' request in September.

But the state has appealed, citing the state's open-government laws. State Attorney General Rob McKenna has asked the court to fast-track the case, as Washington voters already are voting on the issue.

The court did not give any indication about when or how the judges would rule, the Secretary of State's Office said.

In Eyman's case, Superior Court Judge Richard Hicks followed precedent, granting a temporary restraining order blocking the state from releasing initiative petitions because the issue still is being heard in a higher court.

Hicks' ruling in Thurston County stems from a lawsuit filed by Eyman on Tuesday seeking to block the state from releasing petitions for 11 initiatives, containing millions of names, to a lobbyist.

In his ruling Hicks said that releasing the petitions "may chill constitutional rights," and that such action was "contrary to prior [Secretary of State] policy and practice."

In a statement, Eyman said the ruling was a "good day for citizens' privacy."

Secretary of State Sam Reed said he continues to believe that the Public Records Act requires release of petitions, according to his office.

Reed added that petition-signing is a public act, not a private expression like voting.

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