The national debate over gay rights and free speech goes before the U.S. Supreme Court Wednesday.
In Doe v. Reed, the court will consider whether those signing a petition to repeal a gay rights law in Washington state can keep their identities secret to avoid retaliation.
In 2008, the signers were promoting Referendum 71, a ballot measure to scuttle a new same-sex domestic partner law. The signers gave their name and home address and some included e-mail addresses.
"The act of signing a referendum petition is very different from speech or expressive conduct. It is not core political speech and involves no substantial expressive element," Washington Attorney General Robert McKenna's state brief says. "Signing a petition is a public act, not anonymous speech."
Weeks before the election, gay rights groups sought copies of the petitions to post them online. But petition supporters sued and a federal judge blocked their release.