Sunday, June 7, 2009

Whose Side Are You On?

Dueling websites. On the one side,, a website planning to publish the names and addresses of everyone who signs the petition to put Referendum 71 on the ballot this Fall. On the other hand, is for those who not only plan on signing the petition, and are willing to go public with that fact.

For the record, Referendum 71 is sponsored by Protect Marriage Washington. (You can guess where this is going.) The idea is to overturn the state's 2009 Domestic Partner Expansion Bill, a measure designed to give registered same-sex couples the same rights and benefits that the state offers married couples.

For the people behind WhoSigned, the idea is simple. Same-sex couples, they argue, deserve to know who favors taking their rights away. They view signing the petition to put R-71 to a vote as threatening and intimidating. Their critics, including those behind IWillSign, say that it is they who are doing the threatening and intimidation.

But for me, the whole argument marks a breakdown in the process of citizen participation. As a general rule, the opinion is that if you favor putting something to vote, you expect it to win. The reaction to R-71 seems to bear this out.

"If you believe and understand and want to hurt families in Washington state and take their rights away, then don't hide, by all means go ahead and sign," said Tom Lang, director of [...].
But we should be working the other way. Deciding that something should be put to a vote should be independent of the item itself. The understanding that a referendum should be put to a vote should be a referendum of its own, on the appropriateness of the idea being voted on. You could be very much opposed to the Domestic Partner Expansion Bill, but also agree with Lang, that this isn't a appropriate issue for the public at large. Or you could feel that R-71 shouldn't be enacted, but that the final decision ultimately belongs to the voters in a democracy. You could make the argument that the propriety and legality of the referendum are best left for the courts, but the very fact that a segment of the public has to sign off for referenda and initiatives to go on the ballot gives us a chance to make that determination for ourselves, and we'll be better off viewing it that way.

1 comment:

JohnMcG said...

It's the same thing in the Senat with cloture votes being considered the "real" votes.