The head of a drive to put a gay marriage ban on the November general election ballot in Arkansas says a charge that approval of the measure could spur a violent backlash against gays is ridiculous. An advocate for gay and lesbian rights said Tuesday that Gov. Mike Huckabee's defense of the proposed state constitutional ban on gay marriage lends support to a campaign that, if successful, could stir gay bashing. Jerry Cox, chairman of the Arkansas Marriage Amendment Committee, said that
wouldn't be the case. "Harming anyone is a crime today, and it will be a crime just the same whether
or not this amendment passes," Cox said. "I don't see it having one bit of effect on people who commit crimes against other people."
On his monthly radio call-in show, Huckabee said the proposed ballot initiative was necessary to quiet the din of activists seeking to rewrite the nation's social code. The governor told a statewide audience that his was among the more than 200,000 signatures that supporters of the proposed Amendment Concerning Marriage and Civil Union turned in last week to get the proposal on the November 2 ballot. About 80,000 valid signatures of registered votes are required to certify the measure for the ballot. It would define marriage as a union only between a man and a woman. "There are some very strong, loud activists who want to completely redefine marriage," the governor said. "Many of us [amendment supporters] feel that it has become necessary to reaffirm the historical definition of marriage. It cannot be redefined to be something that culture wants it to be." Huckabee, a Baptist minister, told his radio audience there was room in society to say that it's nobody's business if people choose to live a gay lifestyle, "even though it's not consistent with the Biblical norm of male and female." "It's a different thing...to rewrite the social code," the governor said on his radio show before leaving for an education conference in Atlanta.
Eric Reece, director of the Arkansas Equality Network, an advocacy group for gays and lesbians, said he was saddened by the governor's support for a proposal that Reece said would deny legal benefits to same-sex couples. "Also, when you enact laws like the gay marriage amendment, it kind of gives license to those who are against gays and lesbians to act out in violence," Reece said. He said he had no statistics on violence against gays in Arkansas because they aren't kept. Reece said his group was undertaking a voter registration drive among Arkansas gays and lesbians and an information program targeting the general population to counter the campaign for the same-sex marriage amendment. Recent town hall meetings in Conway, El Dorado, Fayetteville, Jonesboro, and Little Rock were part of the effort to educate the public that the proposal not only would prohibit gay marriages but also recognition of civil unions that qualify same-sex couples for health coverage, Social Security, and other benefits, he said. "Those couples are Arkansans. We pay the same taxes, share the same responsibilities, and therefore should be afforded the same benefits," Reece said.