August 21, 2012 at 10:09 am EDT | by Kevin Naff
Defending decision to publish names of Md. marriage opponents

The Blade earlier this month posted online a database of more than 100,000 names and addresses of Maryland residents who signed a petition to force the state’s marriage equality law onto the November ballot.

Our decision to post the database was immediately criticized by voices on the far right — and far left.

Monica Johnson, an evangelical writer for the Examiner newspaper, accused us of using “intimidation tactics,” writing, “will they take responsibility in the event that someone uses this information for evil purposes, or will they defer to their right to publish the information as a good enough reason?”

Right-wing homophobe Matt Barber accused us of “homo terrorism.” Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins tweeted, “@WashingtonBlade’s decision to publish the names of those who signed MD’s marriage amendment petition is nothing short of intimidation.”

Meanwhile, on the other side of the political spectrum, transgender rights activist Dana Beyer told gay magazine Metro Weekly that the decision to post the names was unwise. “Given what the coalition has stated, that they don’t want to muddy the message, this does not help,” she said. ”You now have an interested third party, the Blade, releasing those names and potentially muddying the message.”

Critics of the decision made for strange bedfellows indeed. The only “intimidation” I’ve seen has come in the form of threats the Blade has received in phone calls to our office and emails to staff warning “I know where your at!”

Of course, it’s not our job to keep the message from being “muddied.” The occasional coziness between LGBT activists and journalists sometimes results in confusion about our role, but to be clear, the Blade employs journalists and not activists — or even “journo activists.” Our job is to shine a light on the truth; sunshine is the best antiseptic.

As Andrew Sullivan put it in defending our decision: “Some argue that this is a tool for intimidation or a violation of privacy. I’m afraid I cannot see that. Signing a political petition is a public act. If you are ashamed of trying to deny your fellow citizens their civil rights, you probably shouldn’t have signed the petition in the first place.”

The database of names in question was verified and compiled using public money. Taxpayers have a right to know how their money is being spent and, as Sullivan rightly notes, signing a petition to take away rights from a class of people is a public act. We don’t allow our lawmakers to take their votes in secret and similarly we shouldn’t tolerate secrecy in the petition process, which is being used more and more in Maryland and elsewhere to circumvent the legislature. In essence, those petition signers are acting as legislators and as such their names must be open to public scrutiny. It’s mindboggling that LGBT rights supporters would advocate for a shadowy, opaque political process.

Kevin Nix, a spokesperson for Marylanders for Marriage Equality, the coalition fighting to preserve the marriage law, said he doesn’t condone our decision to publish the names. If he were more strategic in his thinking, he’d embrace this as an opportunity to engage with some of those 100,000 people to change hearts and minds before the November vote. The database is sorted by neighborhood — among other criteria — enabling the Marylanders for Marriage Equality coalition to see exactly where the highest concentrations of our opponents live. They should be thanking us for this tool rather than publicly criticizing the Blade.

Luckily, there are many average LGBT Marylanders who understand that this database presents us with an opportunity to engage with our loved ones who signed the petition. I have heard from multiple friends and even one openly gay elected official that upon searching the database they discovered family members and neighbors had signed. They are now actively reaching out to them to explain the law and how it helps our families in hopes that those petition signers don’t turn into votes against our equality.

Some have asked if the shooting last week at the Family Research Council headquarters allegedly by a man who volunteered at the DC Center for the LGBT Community would have changed our decision to publish. The answer is no. That isolated incident was a tragic aberration and not indicative of the mindset of the LGBT community. We have been the victims of violence long enough to know that violence is not the way to resolve political disagreements.

The best way to counter the hate — and, yes, the Family Research Council is a hate group — of the far right is with truth and an open dialogue. We should all fight to ensure transparency in government, especially when our opponents are counting on secrecy and lack of accountability to hide their dirty deeds from public scrutiny.

Kevin Naff is the editor and a co-owner of the Washington Blade, the nation’s oldest and most acclaimed LGBT news publication, founded in 1969.

  • I fully support your decision to publish the names. I did loose a friend over it but I’d rather have friendships based on honesty and support than one where I felt like I had just been stabbed in the back.

    • I agree completely Barbara. I, too, lost a friend (and more) as others apparently supported her. They smile to your face and as you said, they stab you in the back. Kevin’s reasoning is spot on.

  • The decision to publish was correct. In fact, we found our two very dearest friends names on the petition and they were written in a way we have never seen them write their names (full name with middle spelled out). In fact, thee folks had already agreed to attend and be a part of our wedding in January pending the vote. When we talked with them, they were shocked and became upset that their names were on it having never signed it.

    In doing some research, it appears that if an organization you belong to (such as a church) knows your full name and address that matches your voter registration then it is possible for them to get your name on the petition perhaps by less than legitimate means. It also seems that the verification process does not spot check the signers of the petition by actually calling them to see if they signed the petition. The Board of Elections just matches what is submitted against voter roles. As long as there is a match, the signature is considered valid.

    Fraud? No way to know, but if this is the procedure to get verified names on a petition then I think zealots for there cause may be tempted to stray outside the boundaries of the intent of the people they ask to be a part of their cause.

    Blade folks—is this incorrect?

    • You should not be asking the Blade for guidance. You are writing about a very serious issue. Your friends need to seek legal assistance. Referendum petitions are submitted to the Maryland State office in Annapolis and then distributed to the respective Maryland counties for validation. No, checking the names is not a perfect system. That said, if anyone discovers that their name(s) were added without their knowledge, then their home county’s State’s Attorney needs to be contacted immediately. Fraudulent petitioning is a Maryland state crime. If an investigation finds such errors, the solicitor whose signature is on the page would be questioned and if evidence points to fraud, that person could be charged. An error can invalidate the entire page or/and invalidate that solicitor’s entire submission and lead to further review. Such investigations can suffice to throw out an entire petition. It just happened to an incumbent Congressman in Michigan.

  • I have no problem with the release of the names. These people willingly signed a document to try and take away a civil right that the Maryland General Assembly extended to many of its citizens. There’s no reason these people should be shielded from the fallout from their LGBT friends & family and their supporters. I was disappointed in the people I recognized that did sign the ballot, was also pleasantly surprised at the number who did not. This is sausage-making at its finest. If the petition signers want to get into the game, they have to be prepared to accept the consequences of lost relationships.

  • My first response was “oh no,” but I’ll admit to being persuaded by your reasoning. Besides, this is a sound strategy for all sides — transparency on voter initiatives using publicly available data, whether for progressive aims or conservative ones.

  • As a gay man, my name is on it. Why? Because I feel that this is too big a decision to let a group of legislators (pandering to certain interest groups and with hidden agendas) decide. The decision should rest with the people.

  • what happened at Sodom and Gomorrah?

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