Think back to last year’s election in Washington State when Referendum 71 was on the ballot, threatening the marriage-like domestic partnership law. Ultimately Ref. 71 passed, preserving the almost-equality the state had achieved. But there was another problem.
Protect Marriage Washington wanted to hide the names of all the people they’d gotten to sign the petition that put Ref. 71 on the ballot, claiming they needed “protected.” I guess they were scared the gays were going to come after them with pitchforks and dildos or something; I don’t know.
The case made it all the way to the US Supreme Court, who ruled today 8-1 in favor of transparency.
Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts said it is vitally important that states be able to ensure that signatures on referendum petitions are authentic.
“Public disclosure thus helps ensure that the only signatures counted are those that should be, and that the only referenda placed on the ballot are those that garner enough valid signatures,” Roberts said. “Public disclosure also promotes transparency and accountability in the electoral process to an extent other measures cannot.”
I couldn’t agree more. The subject of this post might sound a bit harsh, but I think it reflects the true importance of such transparency. If people can initiate legislation with no accountability, then there won’t be any check on majoritarianism. If we start allowing citizens to legislate from the shadows, then groups like Protect Marriage can start taking away people’s rights left and right without having to explain themselves.
Unfortunately, Justice Thomas doesn’t seem to be concerned:
Justice Clarence Thomas dissented from the court’s opinion.
“In my view, compelled disclosure of signed referendum and initiative petitions under the Washington Public Records severely burdens those rights and chills citizen participation in the referendum process,” Thomas said.
You know what? It should chill citizen participation. If you aren’t willing to stand by your signature on a legislative petition, you shouldn’t be signing a legislative petition!
Well, Justice Thomas never fails to disappoint us, but I’m glad to see the rest of the Court saw the importance of the transparency.
This decision seems to put the kabbash to the whole “irreparable harm if the names are released” nonsense. Yeah, we’ll boycott you and maybe even protest you if you actively participate in discriminating against us. Welcome to democracy!
If you’re interested in reading the full decision, the PDF can be found here.
While the issue in this case wasn’t specifically LGBT-related per say, today is definitely an important victory for LGBT equality.