By Julie Muhlstein Herald Columnist
Two years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court grappled with whether people who signed a state ballot petition should remain anonymous.
“Running a democracy takes a certain amount of civic courage,” Justice Antonin Scalia said during oral arguments.
The case involved Referendum 71. The 2009 ballot measure sought, but failed, to repeal a Washington law allowing gay couples to register as domestic partners.
Backers of R-71 wanted the names of those who had signed petitions kept secret. The Supreme Court ruled that ballot-measure petitions are public records.
“The First Amendment offers no protection against criticism or even nasty phone calls,” said Scalia, quoted in an Associated Press article about the case published April 28, 2010.
Fast forward to this spring. Signatures are again being gathered. Referendum 74, filed by Preserve Marriage Washington, seeks to overturn a new law legalizing gay marriage in our state, due to take effect June 7.
Yet if more than 120,577 valid signatures are gathered by June 6, voters statewide may decide the same-sex marriage issue.
What Scalia called “a certain amount of civic courage” is now in evidence by people whose names and addresses are listed on a state map of “Regional Petition Centers for Referendum 74.” The map of places where petitions are available, put together by Preserve Marriage Washington, includes names and addresses of many churches supporting the challenge to gay marriage. There also are individuals whose names, phone numbers and home or business addresses are publicly listed in order to distribute R-74 petitions.
John West, an Edmonds retiree, and Chuck Whitfield, a co-owner of Whitfield’s United Insurance Agencies, Inc., are among those listed in Snohomish County. The Whitfield’s branch in Monroe is on the map.
In a previous column, I had my say on the question of same-sex marriage. As I told West and Whitfield on Thursday, I believe all adult couples in our country should have the right to legal marriage — which I see as separate from any religious recognition of marriage.
Whitfield and West believe marriage is reserved for a man and a woman.
Although I disagree with that reasoning, I applaud their willingness to participate publicly in the political process. How much easier would it be to hide behind secret signatures?
West, 66, has been politically active in the past. Years ago, he ran for a school board position in Pierce County.
He and his wife of 45 years have lived in Edmonds for 13 years. Asked if he worried about disclosing his role as an R-74 booster — his home address is on the online map — West discounted any concern.
“If people can’t take a stand and have civil discourse, we have a bigger problem than gay marriage,” he said.
West, who attends Alderwood Community Church, said his opposition to gay marriage is based on his “fundamental, scripturally based” Christian beliefs. West sees marriage between a man and a woman as “a fundamental thing in society.”
The 55-year-old Whitfield said he believes homosexuality is a choice. “This is where I go out on a limb,” he said.
Whitfield said he decided to use the Monroe insurance office as a distribution point for R-74 petitions despite concerns he has about any backlash.
“It’s kind of a touchy situation. We don’t have a sign outside that says, ‘Come here to get your petitions.’ We’ve considered some potential fallout,” said Whitfield, a co-owner and vice president of the insurance company. Whitfield said both he and his business partner “believe it’s important to support traditional marriage.”
“Our society is based on that premise. It’s for procreation. It’s the basic structure to society, to pass our values and beliefs on to other generations — and it’s under attack,” Whitfield said.
He and his wife, Nancy, have been married 28 years and have three children. “It hasn’t always been easy,” he said.
“Personally, I do not believe it’s good for society to have same-sex marriage,” said Whitfield, who describes himself as a conservative Christian.
Whitfield said he contacted the Family Policy Institute, another organization working to overturn the same-sex marriage law. “I asked to be part of that,” he said.
He agreed to hand out petitions from the Monroe office, and also plans to work with signature gatherers.
I told Whifield I believe that signing a political petition is a public act. “I agree with you,” he said. Well, there’s one thing we agree on.
Does he worry about the opinions of neighbors, or how others will see his business? “We feel there are a lot of people in agreement with us. There’s some risk involved, but it’s standing up for something you feel is important,” Whitfield said.
West feels strongly that expressing oneself openly — not in secret — is part of our political system.
“We shouldn’t have to worry about where we live, or whether we’ll get phone calls,” West said. “I’m not going to give in to that fear.”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Referendum 74 petitions
Referendum 74 seeks to overturn a new law legalizing same-sex marriage in Washington.
Preserve Marriage Washington, which filed R-74, is circulating petitions to gather signatures to put the measure on the November ballot.
For information, go to http://preserve marriagewashington.com/home.php
A map showing petition sources is at http://tinyurl.com/PetitionCenterMap.