- The Washington Times - Monday, September 6, 2004

Legal battles regarding state marriage amendments are over in Louisiana — and possibly in Michigan — but three other states still are involved in the fight to put the issue to a statewide vote.

All of the challenges are intended to keep the proposed amendments, which legally would define marriage as the union of one man and one woman, off statewide ballots. Homosexual-rights groups oppose such amendments.

“Writing discrimination into state constitutions and voting on whether to treat one group of people differently than everyone else should not be taken lightly,” said Seth Kilbourn of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest homosexual- rights group. “The lawsuits are making sure the process is followed with these amendments.”

In Louisiana late last week, the state Supreme Court refused to hear challenges to that state’s proposed amendment and cleared the way for a Sept. 18 vote.

“This is a great day for democracy,” said Mike Johnson, an Alliance Defense Fund lawyer who represented the state legislators who wrote the amendment. “Same-sex marriage is not inevitable.”

Randy Evans, who represented plaintiff Forum for Equality Political Action Committee, said he was disappointed in the outcome.

“We hoped the [high] court would at least have a hearing on these issues on this amendment, which will take away rights from all of those people in the state,” he said.

Forum for Equality had filed multiple lawsuits challenging the wording of the Louisiana amendment and its place on the Sept. 18 primary ballot, which they said is not a statewide election day.

The cases went to separate appellate courts, which both held that the amendment could be voted on that day. When the state high court declined to take the cases, the lower court rulings prevailed.

In Michigan, the state Court of Appeals told officials on Friday to put the marriage amendment on the Nov. 2 ballot.

The measure came before the appellate court after two Democratic elections officials refused to certify the amendment, although supporters gathered more than 462,000 signatures — 144,000 more than necessary — for it.

The two Republican officials on the Board of State Canvassers voted for it, but the Democratic officials said the amendment’s wording was unconstitutional and the amendment was rejected in a 2-2 vote.

The board “breached its clear legal duty to certify the petition,” the appellate court said Friday and ordered state officials to put it on the ballot.

But the Michigan case may not be over. The Coalition for a Fair Michigan, which opposes the amendment, is considering an appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court.

In Arkansas and Oklahoma, lawyers with the American Civil Liberties Union have filed lawsuits in their state Supreme Courts to block votes on marriage amendments. The Oklahoma case has a preliminary hearing on Wednesday, and the Arkansas case has a Sept. 23 court date.

And in Ohio, a lawyer representing civil rights groups has challenged marriage amendment petitions in at least 10 counties.

Ohio amendment supporters also turned in more than enough signatures — 68,000 more than necessary — to get the measure on the ballot.

But many of the signatures are missing dates or have altered figures, said Donald McTigue, an elections lawyer representing Ohioans Protecting the Constitution.

Phil Burress of the Ohio Campaign to Protect Marriage said amendment supporters still are collecting extra signatures — in case they are needed.

The Ohio secretary of state has until Sept. 23 to certify the amendment for the Nov. 2 ballot.

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