Dealing a blow to gay marriage opponents who hoped to remain anonymous, the Supreme Court on Thursday said there is no automatic legal right to block public release of the names and addresses of individuals who signed a Washington state ballot measure that favored traditional marriage -- or any initiative petition in the United States.
Considering the 8-1 decision, the vote was a significant defeat for Project Marriage Washington, which argued that public disclosure of names would lead to threats and harassment.
This means the 138,000 people who signed the 2009 petition are now of public record. Those who signed had wanted to overturn a new state law that extends "benefits of marriage" to people who list themselves as domestic partners -- not just man and wife couples. That attempt failed.
Saying that gay rights proponents would now put all the names on the Internet and use them for potentially nefarious activity, lawyers for the group also argued that each of the signer's right to privacy outweighed Washington's public records law.
According to Reuters: A federal judge initially agreed with the group that disclosure of the names and addresses violated constitutional protections of anonymous political speech. But a U.S. appeals court ruled the names could be made public and said the signatures had been gathered in public with no promise of confidentiality.
In the majority opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts, the Supreme Court ruled that disclosure of referendum petitions generally does not violate any free-speech rights.
Clarence Thomas was the only justice who dissented.