In its second surprise move in a week, the United States Supreme Court on Friday, January 15, announced it would review another narrow dispute involving anti-gay activists' alleged fear of harassment over their public opposition to legal recognition for same-sex relationships.
The court's actions – because they are unusual involvements in two cases regarding same-sex relationships – have gay legal activists worried.
"With the first decision, it might have looked like it was mostly driven by justices who are just adamantly opposed to cameras in the courtroom," said Jennifer Pizer, head of Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund's National Marriage Project. "But with the second decision, it goes from being worrisome to alarming. Both decisions are based on quite absurd arguments" that the anti-gay activists are being "terribly persecuted by an angry mob, and that's just ridiculous."
Pizer was referring to a ruling issued January 13 that bars televised coverage of the Proposition 8 trial now under way in San Francisco. U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker, who is presiding over the Perry v. Schwarzenegger case, had issued a decision allowing the trial to be shown in several federal courthouses around the country and have the proceedings uploaded to YouTube. But the high court blocked those plans at the start of the trial last Monday and then on Wednesday issued its order prohibiting the broadcasts.
The latest case, Doe v. Reed, stems from the controversy over a new law that recognizes domestic partnerships in Washington state. The legislature passed, and the voters, through Referendum 71, ratified that new law last year. But a lingering side issue in the matter has been whether citizens who signed the petitions that forced the new law onto the ballot last November can block those petitions – normally, a part of the public record – from public view.
Those who want to keep the petitions secret say they are asking for this special dispensation because they fear that people who disagree with them will harass them for having taken the position that they did. Protect Marriage Washington, the group that sought, unsuccessfully, to overturn the domestic partnership law, filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to seal the petitions from public scrutiny. A federal judge issued a temporary order stopping release of the signatures, pending a final decision, and the appeals of that decision are now before the high court.