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July 2 , 2010

Justices rule for gay side on petitions, school bias codes

Washington, D.C.--The Supreme Court came out on the pro-gay side of two issues within a week, one concerning ballot petitions, the other non-discrimination policies of public universities.

The first of the two rulings came on June 24, striking down a bid to hide the petition signatures for a ballot measure last year to undo Washington state�s domestic partner law. (Voters retained the law in November.)

Protect Marriage Washington argued that releasing the signatures, required by state law, would have a �chilling� effect on people�s participation in democracy, leaving them open to harassment and retribution. They claimed that the release of the signatures therefore violated their First Amendment rights.

The Supreme Court ruled 8-1 that the perceived threat of reprisal was not enough justification to keep the signatures secret, that it did not present enough of a violation of First Amendment protections for freedom of speech.

The opinion was written by Chief Justice John Roberts.

�Public disclosure . . . helps ensure that the only signatures counted are those that should be, and that the only referenda placed on the ballot are those that garner enough valid signatures,� he wrote. �Public disclosure also promotes transparency and accountability in the electoral process to an extent other measures cannot.�

Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito both suggested that Protect Marriage Washington might be more successful making a narrower argument that the signatories would be susceptible to threats and intimidation, but Justice Antonin Scalia wrote, �Harsh criticism, short of unlawful action, is a price our people have traditionally been willing to pay for self-governance,� according to the Associated Press.

The second ruling, released on June 28, upheld public universities� ability to withhold recognition and funding from student groups that do not abide by the schools� antidiscrimination policies.

The case, which was settled on a narrower 5-4 margin, found against the Christian Legal Society in their lawsuit against the Hastings College of Law, part of the University of California-San Francisco.

The Christian Legal Society only permits voting members and leaders who affirm a strict �Christian� belief system, which precludes �unrepentant participation in or advocacy of a sexually immoral lifestyle,� according to the New York Times.

The society claims that the school�s rule aninst LGBT discrimination violates their freedoms of association and religion. The school said that they are welcome to have their own standards, but without the university�s imprimatur, funding or other services given to �official� groups.

Justice John Paul Stevens, who is retiring, wrote in a concurring opinion, that organizations that exclude certain groups must be allowed to have a voice, but that society �need not subsidize them, give them its official imprimatur or grant them equal access to law school facilities.�

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, a moderate, also concurred, writing, �A vibrant dialogue is not possible if students wall themselves off from opposing points of view.�

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