Proposed Louisiana gay marriage ban facing several challenges
August 19 2004 12:00 AM ET
Efforts to prevent a September 18 vote on a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages and civil unions in Louisiana are proceeding on several fronts, lawyers said Tuesday. Gay rights lawyers plan to file an appeal with the first circuit court of appeals in Baton Rouge on Wednesday following a Baton Rouge judge's Monday refusal to stop a vote on the amendment. In New Orleans, civil district court judge Christopher Bruno has scheduled a Friday afternoon hearing to determine whether to make permanent his ruling last week that the vote cannot go on because it was not scheduled on a regular statewide election day (nine parishes had no other elections planned on September 18). Other aspects of the case are pending at the state fourth circuit court of appeals in New Orleans.
Opponents of the proposed amendment are taking a multifaceted approach. Forum for Equality argues that the ban would violate the Louisiana constitution's guarantee of individuals' rights to enter into contracts and own property; they say it would invalidate contracts that gay and lesbian partners have drawn up to own houses together or to share responsibility for children. Backers of the amendment in the legislature say it does not go that far. Opponents also say it illegally focuses on multiple objectives--not just outlawing gay marriages but also civil unions and other legal relationships that bestow "the incidents of marriage." Backers of the amendment say it was drawn up correctly and will withstand court scrutiny.
On Monday in Baton Rouge, Judge Michael Caldwell refused to block the election, ruling that challenges to an election can be made only after the election is held, agreeing with a main argument of the state. Randy Evans, a New Orleans lawyer working on the case for the Forum for Equality civil rights group, said Caldwell's decision would be appealed to the first circuit court of appeals in Baton Rouge. Complicating the issue on Tuesday was a state supreme court order in which the justices refused to hear an appeal of Bruno's temporary order because it should go to the fourth circuit first. John Rawls, an attorney for Forum for Equality, said the appeal had been filed in error by clerks and that Forum lawyers and the state had agreed to hold off on an appeal until Bruno hears the case on Friday.