- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 17, 2004

The first of six petition drives to block same-sex “marriage” with state constitutional amendments ends this week in Montana.

If at least 41,020 valid signatures are turned in tomorrow, Montana voters will have a chance to decide in November whether to define marriage as “the union of one man and one woman” in their state’s constitution.

The amendment, if passed, will prohibit courts from finding a “right to marry” for homosexuals, as has happened in Massachusetts.

“In Montana, we think [marriage] should be decided by folks who wear blue jeans, not folks who wear black robes,” said Montana state Rep. Jeff Laszloffy, author of the amendment.

Mr. Laszloffy, who also is president of the Montana Family Foundation, declined this week to say how many signatures have been collected. But he said, “I think we’re going to be fine.”

Similar petition drives are under way in Arkansas, Oregon, Michigan, North Dakota and Ohio. The number of signatures needed varies by state because of different laws regarding how a measure gets on a ballot.

But they all face strict timetables and opposition from homosexual rights groups that urge voters to “think before you ink” and “decline to sign.”

“If anyone approaches you to sign the petition to ban gay marriage, don’t. Don’t sign the marriage petition,” says the voice mail message for Sean Kosofsky, director of policy at Triangle Foundation in Detroit.

Homosexual rights groups said petition drives in Michigan, Oregon and Ohio are most likely to fail.

In Michigan, it was late spring before lawmakers voted against having a marriage amendment, so the petition drive got a late start, said Marlene Ewell, chairwoman of Citizens for the Protection of Marriage. It took until late May to get petition coordinators in place in 83 Michigan counties, she said.

“We’re just really kicking now,” she said.

Michigan’s 317,757 signatures are due July 5.

Arkansas’ 80,570 signatures are due July 2, as are Oregon’s 100,840 signatures. North Dakota’s 25,688 names are due Aug. 3, and Ohio has until Aug. 4 to get 322,899 signers.

Of the six petition drives, Arkansas’ appears to be in the best position.

More than 108,000 signatures have been collected, and the goal is 160,000 signatures — “double what we need,” said Chris Stewart, executive director of the Arkansas Marriage Amendment Committee in Little Rock.

“The overall response has been wonderful. We’ve had 90 percent acceptance across the state,” he said.

Petition leaders in Arkansas and Montana took advantage of recent primary election days to collect signatures from registered voters. Mr. Stewart said volunteers collected more than 45,000 signatures on May 18, while homosexual rights advocates denounced the “marriage discrimination” petitions at the voting places.

In Montana, the police were called four times to one voting place to quell arguments over the petitions, the Missoulian reported.

Arkansas had at least six run-ins at voting places, Mr. Stewart said, but he added that the day also showed overwhelming public support for the petitions.

“The words would not even get out of my mouth and people said, ‘Yes, I will sign that,’” he said.

Many homosexual rights activists, including Mr. Kosofsky, said the petition drives are blatant political acts designed to attract voters in swing states to re-elect President Bush.

The Bush administration is “orchestrating” the drives to “distract all Democrats from every single issue that Republicans are on the defensive on, even Iraq,” Mr. Kosofsky said. “Certain things don’t belong on a ballot — my right to a job, my right to a family. Fundamental human rights do not belong on a ballot.”

Petition organizers say the amendments are a reaction to pro-homosexual judges and officials.

“The No. 1 reason we are going this route is because of judicial tyranny. … We got here because of one judge in Massachusetts,” said Phil Burress, president of Citizens for Community Values in Cincinnati, referring to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s 4-3 decision legalizing same-sex “marriage” in that state as of May 17.

Christina Kindel, director of the North Dakota Family Alliance in Bismarck, said people in her state “watch the news, they know what’s happening in Massachusetts.”

“And, of course, being a border state with Canada, what happened last year [when some provinces legalized same-sex ‘marriage’] concerned a lot of North Dakotans,” she said.

Mike White of the Defense of Marriage Coalition in Oregon said that “like everyone else, we woke up one morning and they’re issuing licenses in Multnomah County,” referring to county officials in Portland, who in March issued 3,022 marriage licenses to same-sex couples before being stopped by a court.

When people say it’s politics, “we say, ‘We didn’t start this. Remember Multnomah County?’” Mr. White said.

Montanans for Families and Fairness, an umbrella group for opponents of the amendment, recently filed a complaint against a church in East Helena, Mont., for not registering as an “incidental political committee” when it hosted a TV broadcast in support of the amendment. The state is investigating the complaint.

Marriage-amendment battles are assured in at least seven other states: Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Utah have marriage amendments on their November ballots, while Missourians will go to polls on the issue Aug. 3. Louisiana has an amendment on its Sept. 18 ballot.

Hawaii and Alaska added marriage amendments to their constitutions during the 1990s to trump court decisions in favor of same-sex “marriage.”

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