Petitions are public documents

The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday got involved for the second time in a week in a case in which opponents of gay rights expressed concerns they might be harassed if their identities are made public.

The high court will consider whether Washington state officials can release more than 138,500 names on a petition seeking a vote on overturning the state’s domestic partnership rights.

Protect Marriage Washington, which unsuccessfully opposed the law giving gay couples expanded rights, wants to shield from disclosure the signers of the petition for a referendum on that law. The group says it fears harassment by gay rights supporters, some of whom have vowed to post signers’ names on the Internet.

Tough. Signing a petition is a voluntary act.

Of course no one should be discouraged from thus participating in the political process, either. But a petition is not a secret ballot. It must be possible to check petitioners’ names to make sure they’re registered voters; therefore the petitions are public documents.

And while we’re on the subject, the court’s conservative majority should not last week have blocked the televising of a trial on California’s ban of same-sex marriage — based on concerns that trial witnesses might be subject to retaliation from gay marriage supporters — either.

The best protection for all lies is leaving the entire process open to public view.

If anyone is “threatened or injured because they have exercised their right to engage in the political process” — the outcome lawyers worried about in seeking to close the California trial — then seek out and punish those who commit the threats or injuries.

To impose secrecy on proceedings that should be public for all to see, “just in case,” goes too far.

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