SACRAMENTO, Calif. – A federal judge denied a request Thursday to keep secret the names of donors to California's anti-gay marriage initiative, saying the public had a right to know who gave money to state ballot measures.
Supporters of the Proposition 8 initiative, which overturned a state Supreme Court ruling that allowed gay marriage, had sought a preliminary injunction to remove the identities of those who contributed to their campaign from the secretary of state's Web site. The initiative was approved by voters in November.
They also had asked U.S. District Judge Morrison England Jr. to block the Monday release of the names of donors who either gave money two weeks before the election or shortly afterward. Those names will be publicly released in postelection campaign finance reports.
But the judge sided with the state, saying that California's campaign disclosure laws were intended to protect the public and were especially important during expensive initiative campaigns.
"If there ever needs to be sunshine on a political issue, it is with a ballot measure," England said.
He said many campaign committees have vague names that obscure their intent, and the public would have no way of knowing who was behind the campaigns unless they could see who was giving money.
Supporters of the ban on gay marriage said public disclosure of their financial supporters had put the donors at risk of personal harassment or boycotts to their businesses.
Frank Schubert, co-manager of the Yes on 8 campaign, said another 1,600 people would be put at risk with the release of the reports.
The state had said in court papers that granting exemption to the plaintiffs could lead to a situation in which no campaign committee involved in a ballot measure could be required to disclose its donors because of the potential for harassment.
That would deny voters the right to know who was behind those campaigns, the state said.
The state also noted that most of the activity the plaintiffs called harassment was actually protected free speech, such as threats of boycotts.
Roman Porter, executive director of the California Fair Political Practices Commission that enforces the state's campaign disclosure laws, called the ruling "a victory for the people of California and disclosure."
Richard Coleson, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said he understood the state's "interest in requiring disclosure."
"But there has to be an exception when there is a reasonable probability of reprisal," he said.
Opponents of Proposition 8 said it was hypocritical for anti-gay marriage backers to cite fear of harrassment.
Fred Karger, founder of gay-rights group Californians Against Hate, said the initiative's backers had threatened boycotts against businesses that failed to donate to their effort during the campaign.
"Now they complain of harassment?" he said.
Schubert said Thursday's ruling was a first step in a long legal process that could end up in appeals courts.
The judge said he didn't agree that the plaintiffs had a probability of success in court and that they had not proven they would suffer "irreparable injury" if he did not grant the preliminary injunction.
The judge planned to issue a more detailed written ruling later.