Paul Thomasson, a gay Seattle man, is personally contacting via letter or email people who signed a petition against a gay-rights law to share his story: "You don't know me," it begins, "but you may soon be in a position to have an effect on my life."
When people who signed a petition against a gay-rights law had their names made public five months ago, sponsors predicted life was about to get tough for citizens who had only exercised their civic rights.
Death threats, vandalism and the loss of jobs all were forecast for supporters of traditional marriage, once their names and addresses were posted online.
“I believe there will certainly be harassment, and I pray to God there isn’t more than that,” said Gary Randall last October. He’s a spokesman for Protect Marriage Washington, which put Referendum 71 on the ballot and fought to keep the signatures private.
So what ended up happening?
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So far, just one thing: A “you don’t know me” letter from a man named Paul Thomasson.
“You don’t know me,” it begins, “but you may soon be in a position to have an effect on my life.”
Thomasson is a gay man in Seattle who is using the release of the names to write directly to people who backed that 2009 measure. His theory is they are the ones most likely to sign a new measure this spring that he strongly opposes: Referendum 74, to overturn gay marriage.
“I can’t know what motivated you to sign the petition for R-71, but I sincerely hope and pray that you will not sign the petition for R-74,” he wrote.
He emailed this to the signers he could find email addresses for in the public records — about 2,000 in all. Now he’s toying with the idea of mailing personal postcards to thousands more.
“People are basically good and tolerant,” Thomasson says. “My intent was to let them know there’s an actual human being affected by their decision.”
A spokesman for the Secretary of State’s Office said Thomasson’s effort is the only personal contact of petition signers they’ve heard about.
In Thomasson’s letter, he talks about his partner of 17 years whom he wants to marry, but can’t.
Other than Randall — who claimed Thomasson is a “hard-core homosexual activist” masquerading as “the guy next door” — most who responded at least seemed appreciative of Thomasson’s gentle approach.
When I called Thomasson, he said he’s less “hard-core” activist than he is a Republican.
“I’m a conservative in just about every possible way,” he said.
“You’re a Republican?” I asked.
“Well, I used to be,” he said. “It was the party that went crazy, not me.”
Thomasson works in human resources at Boeing. He was a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy, discharged in 1995 under the infamous “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. He launched the first constitutional challenge to the policy, which he lost.
He said he’s writing to anti-gay-marriage folks in part because of the positive personal experience he had coming out in the Navy. Hardened views sometimes soften when people find they know someone who is gay.
I bet personal-contact politics like this is about to become a lot more common.
This year, the state plans to make all petitions public not long after they are turned in — in June or July. So signers should expect to see their names and addresses posted on the Internet well before the election in November.
There likely will be searchable databases for a variety of initiatives and causes, from far right to far left, so you can see what your neighbors signed. Doorbellers will know your petition history. Already there’s an app that melds the Referendum 71 signature database with your Facebook account, so you can see if any Facebook “friends” signed.
Open, vital democracy? Or chilling intrusion? Doesn’t matter which side you come down on, because it’s now the Supreme Court-approved law.
Says Thomasson: “I think people should be aware that if they want to enter the legislative fray by signing a petition, then they are in the public arena and people who disagree might be contacting them directly.”
Hopefully with as much class and grace as he showed. But this being politics, there are no guarantees.
Danny Westneat’s column appears Wednesday and Sunday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or email@example.com.