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Originally published Wednesday, August 11, 2010 at 12:56 PM

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Ban remains for now on release of R-71 petition signers' names

A federal judge has left in place a ban on releasing the identities of Referendum 71 petition signers as the case moves forward in federal court.

Seattle Times staff reporter

A judge has left in place a ban on releasing the identities of Referendum 71 petition signers as the case moves forward in federal court.

U.S. District Court Judge Benjamin Settle in Tacoma on Wednesday denied the state's request for immediate release of the names, saying such release would make the case moot. But he did agree to the state's request to put the case on a fast track.

Both parties will now have 10 days to provide lists of their witnesses; 60 days for discovery; and 45 days for briefings. A trial could happen by November, according to the Secretary of State's Office.

Even if the state wins in that trial, the names may not be immediately publicly available, as those who want to keep the names secret could appeal the ruling.

The case stems from the long battle over Referendum 71. That referendum, sponsored by the group Protect Marriage Washington, unsuccessfully sought to repeal a 2009 state law granting expanded, marriagelike benefits for gay and lesbian couples registered as domestic partners. Voters approved keeping the expanded benefits in last November's election.

Before the election, a gay-rights advocate said he would request the names of those who signed petitions to get the referendum on the ballot, and that he would post the information on a searchable website.

Protect Marriage Washington went to court to keep the identities of signers secret, saying disclosure would scare supporters away from exercising their First Amendment free-speech rights.

The state said Washington's Public Records Act requires the release of such records upon request, and that such release does not violate the First Amendment.

In September, Settle granted a preliminary injunction, blocking the state from making the petitions public. That decision was appealed and the case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in June that disclosing the identities of ballot-measure petition signers does not, in general, violate the First Amendment.

But the high court also said Protect Marriage Washington could go back to federal court to argue that in the Referendum 71 case, such disclosure might lead to harassment or harm and could therefore violate the signers' First Amendment rights.

Janet I. Tu: 206-464-2272 or jtu@seattletimes.com

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