Thursday, July 8, 2010

What about the threats?

In Doe v. Reed, marriage equality opponents from Washington argued for secrecy for the signatures on the petitions that qualified Referendum 71 for the ballot (and thus allowed people to vote on whether or not domestic partner benefits should be expanded). They claimed that to reveal the signatures would expose the signers to violence.

As we know the Supreme Court decided that generally, signatures should be public. (See my previous post here). So the bad guys lost this round.

One of the amicus briefs filed with the court to support the good guys specifically addressed this claim of violence and intimidation. Several social scientists who study direct democracy and the initiative process actually did the research to see whether there is credible evidence that publicizing the names of petition signers leads to threats.


The take home message?
More than a million names of signers of petitions for referenda and initiatives opposing gay marriage have been posted on the internet. Yet there is no evidence that any of these signers has faced any threat of retalia-tion or harassment by reason of that disclosure.

First they looked at Washington state petitions on all subjects

Petitioners do not, however, identify a single case in which a voter signing a petition has actually been subject to any form of harassment or intimidation as a result of public disclosure of that voter’s signature, name and address on the petition.
The lack of any demonstrable threat of intimidation or harassment is not limited to Washington. In fact, it is difficult to identify any case of intimidation or harassment of a petition signer occurring during the entire previous century.

Then they take on the claims about one particular organization around the gay marriage issue:
Petitioners state that an organization called, an organization supporting equal marriage rights for lesbian and gay couples, “posted the names of traditional marriage supporters signing petitions in Arkansas, Florida, Massachusetts, and Oregon.5 ” .... Upwards of a million names and addresses of these individuals in three states (Arkansas, Florida, and Massachusetts) have been posted online by KnowThyNeighbor. org. Petitioners, however, have not identified a single individual who has actually faced any threat of intimidation, retaliation or harassment as a result of merely signing any of these petitions and having that signature publicly disclosed.
And, in a sting to the tail, the publication of the signatures actually helps weed out fraud, which they show is epidemic in proportion in these initiative campaigns:
In Massachusetts, the public disclosure on the web by of the individuals who signed petitions to ban gay marriage led not to harassment or intimidation of those signers, but rather to the realization by thousands of citizens that they had been duped into signing the petition, thinking they were signing a petition to permit gay marriage.
The anti-gay side is fighting hard to make themselves the victim. Those marauding homos, doing violence against old ladies! Those terrible gays, destroying straight marriages! Those Godless 'mos, viciously attacking religious values!

It is imperative that we challenge these lies. The harassment that there was during Prop8 affected both sides --almost certainly, ours more than theirs. As I've said before, I was spit at, cursed, cut off on the freeway and had my car vandalized. During the post-8 mega-marches I attended, the only arrests were of THEIR side. And it's their campaign who wrote threatening letters to pro-equality donors.

No straight marriage ever failed because two gay people married. And plenty of GLBT and GLBT-friendly folks are very religious (just check out the crowded Episcopal Cathedral in San Diego for an example). The right-wing does not own the term "Christian" (and it's past time progressive Christians managed to wrest that name back again, but that's a subject for a different post).

And NO ONE has ever been harassed or threatened because their petition signature was made public.

Facts matter. Get them out there!

Update a great review of this and another relevant amicus brief at LGBT POV.

Also see another amicus brief at GLAD

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