In a friend-of-the-court brief filed with the U.S. Supreme Court today, the nation’s leading LGBT legal organizations, Lambda Legal, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), and the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) – together with the Human Rights Campaign and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force – joined the State of Washington and others in defending open government laws requiring public disclosure of the names of voters who sign petitions supporting state ballot initiatives. In particular, this brief refutes the false claims presented to the Supreme Court in this and other cases that individuals who support anti-gay initiatives have been subjected to “systematic intimidation” by the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.
In Doe v. Reed, anti-gay groups are asking the Supreme Court to overturn a decision of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ordering the release of the names of 138,000 people who signed petitions supporting a ballot initiative to repeal basic protections for same-sex couples in Washington State. In November 2009, Washington voters rejected this attempt – Referendum 71 — and preserved the state’s domestic partnership law. Under Washington’s Public Records Act, the signatures on referendum petitions are public in order to prevent fraud and protect the integrity of the lawmaking process. The anti-gay groups are seeking to strike down Washington’s law, claiming that supporters of anti-gay ballot campaigns would be exposed to harassment and intimidation by the LGBT community if their names were made public.
“What is happening here are attackers screaming ‘help! help!’ while they do the pummeling.,” said Jon Davidson, Legal Director at Lambda Legal. “Let’s not forget who is really under assault. In trying to play the victim, anti-gay organizations are relying on exaggeration and outright lies to try to block an important check on anti-minority ballot initiatives. The requirement that petition signatures be available for public inspection prevents fraud and encourages open debate.”
The amicus brief submitted by the LGBT legal groups argues that it is the lesbian and gay community, not its opponents, that continues to suffer serious violence, harassment, and discrimination, along with a 30-year barrage of ballot petitions aimed at stripping LGBT people and other minority groups of basic protections. The brief also attacks the notion of an alleged organized campaign of harassment and intimidation against supporters of ant-gay ballot initiatives, calling into question legal statements and press accounts cited by anti-gay groups (details available at www.glad.org/doe-v-reed).
“We’ve seen this tactic before when a minority group is subject to political attack. It is common to claim that the minority is itself the aggressor from which protection is required,” said Shannon Price Minter, NCLR Legal Director. “The Petitioners are making false claims to undermine laws that protect the integrity and openness of the political process.”
There is no credible evidence that individuals who signed petitions to put Referendum 71 on the ballot were subjected to any harassment,” said Gary Buseck, Legal Director of GLAD. “Petitioners have taken a handful of isolated incidents – serious if true but also endemic to hard-fought political campaigns – and attempted to magnify them into a coordinated campaign that simply does not exist by joining them with any array of trivial grievances and feelings of discomfort when lesbians and gay men responded to the ballot attack with constitutionally protected speech.”
The incidents that the Petitioners have put forward as evidence of an “intimidation campaign” include one complaint by a supporter of California’s Proposition 8of rude comments from fellow country club members after displaying a “Yes on 8” sign. Another complained of taunts by Halloween trick-or-treaters, presumably after seeing a pro-Prop 8 yard sign. In comparison, Los Angeles County alone saw nine anti-LGBT hate crimes related to Prop 8, four of which involved violent crimes.
The Justices will hear the case on April 28 with a ruling expected later this year.
The brief in Doe v. Reed (Case No. 09-559) was prepared by Luke Platzer and William Hohengarten of Jenner & Block, Jon Davidson and Susan Sommer of Lambda Legal, Gary Buseck and Mary Bonauto of GLAD, and Shannon Minter and Christopher Stoll of NCLR.