The Arkansas supreme court on Thursday refused to strike an anti-gay marriage amendment from the state general election ballot, ruling in a split decision that the proposal, as presented to voters, is sufficiently clear. The court voted 5-2 to present the issue to voters.
Backed by more than 200,000 signatures, the Arkansas Marriage Amendment Committee proposes changing the Arkansas constitution to read, "Marriage consists only of the union of one man and one woman." More than a dozen states are considering similar bans, triggered by a Massachusetts supreme judicial court decision last year to recognize gay unions in that state.
In Arkansas the proposed amendment would prohibit the state from recognizing gay marriages from elsewhere. Common-law marriages from out of state would be recognized if they involve two people of different genders. "This clears the way for every voting Arkansan to decide how marriage will be defined in this state," said Jerry Cox, who leads the amendment effort. "The court put this issue in the hands of Arkansas citizens. That's as it should be."
The issue is expected to draw more conservatives to the polls for the November 2 general election and could be seen as a benefit to President Bush, who carried the state in 2000.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which sued to remove the issue from consideration, said it was hopeful that it raised enough questions about the proposal to generate votes against it. "We educated the voters in how misleading and vague the amendment is," said Rita Sklar, executive director of the Arkansas ACLU.
The ACLU said the language to be included on the November 2 ballot doesn't fully explain the issue. Justice Donald Corbin noted while hearing oral arguments September 23 that the language and the actual amendment mirror each other--so the ballot title had to fully explain the amendment.
In its argument the ACLU also said that including the word marriage in the amendment's title was as politically inflammatory as using the words unborn child in a past proposal regarding abortion. Corbin disagreed. "The popular name...clearly and concisely identifies the measure to voters," he wrote. "It is intelligible, honest, and impartial and does not contain inflammatory language, political catchwords, or partisan coloring."