WASHINGTON – People who sign petitions calling for public votes on controversial subjects don’t have an automatic right to hide their names, the Supreme Court ruled Thursday as it sided against Washington state voters worried about harassment because of their desire to repeal that state’s gay rights law.

The high court ruled against Protect Marriage Washington, which organized a petition drive for a public vote to repeal the state’s “everything-but-marriage” gay rights law.

Petition signers wanted to hide their names because of worries of intimidation. But the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco refused to keep their names secret. The Supreme Court stepped in and temporarily blocked release of the names until the high court could make a decision.

The court now says disclosing names on a petition for a public referendum does not chill the signer’s freedom of speech enough to warrant overturning the state’s disclosure law.

Chief Justice John Roberts, writing the 8-1 judgment for the court, said it is vitally important that states be able to ensure that signatures on referendum petitions are authentic.

“Public disclosure thus helps ensure that the only referenda placed on the ballot are those that garner enough valid signatures,” Roberts said. “Public disclosure also promotes transparency and accountability in the electoral process to an extent other measures cannot.”

But Roberts also said that the court’s opinion deals with whether disclosure of the names on referendum petitions as a whole violates the First Amendment, not solely the Protect Marriage Washington case.

The case now goes back to the lower courts for further arguments.