Originally published on Advocate.com August 11 2004 12:00 AM ET
One challenge to a proposed amendment that would lock a same-sex marriage ban into Louisiana's constitution was quickly dismissed Tuesday. A second challenge will be heard Friday. "We filed a backup lawsuit," said John Rawls, attorney for the Forum for Equality and three individual plaintiffs who want to keep the measure off the September 18 ballot.
Both suits against the proposal were filed last Friday in New Orleans. Both contend that the proposed amendment should not be on the ballot on the grounds that it was illegally approved by the legislature and would invalidate gay and lesbian partners' contracts with each other.
Judge Nadine Ramsey dismissed the first challenge Tuesday because it was filed in the wrong court as required by the state election code.
Rawls said there are two choices remaining for the second challenge: File a new suit in Baton Rouge, or go to the fourth circuit court of appeal. The election code requires any appeal to be made within 24 hours, he noted. Even if the amendment would be illegal and unconstitutional, it cannot be kept off the ballot, Asst. Atty. Gen. Roy Mongrue argued. "What's more important? The voice of the people or taxpayer dollars?" he asked. He said the people's right to vote is key. "The people control the process, not individuals who don't particularly agree with the proposal."
Rawls said, "We respectfully disagree. We think every citizen has the right to keep an illegal amendment off the ballot, and we don't think we have to go to Baton Rouge to do it."
The suits attack the amendment on several grounds. One issue is that the legislation is drawn up for more than one purpose--a "multiple objective," forbidden in legislation by the state constitution. The argument stems from language in the amendment that would ban civil unions. It also could be interpreted as outlawing the extension of domestic-partnership benefits to unmarried couples.
Plaintiffs who brought the suit include a man who opposes government recognition of same-sex marriage but strongly favors government recognition of same-sex civil unions. He argues he cannot support one part of the amendment and oppose another part of it. Other plaintiffs include a gay man who said the amendment could outlaw the contract under which he and his partner own a house together, and a lesbian who is afraid it would affect her contracts with her partner and their children.
Aside from the "multiple object" complaint, the lawsuit says that the amendment should be kept off the ballot because it would deny some Louisiana residents rights that the state constitution now defines as "inalienable" and "inviolate," including the right to equal protection under the law and the right to control one's own property. The suit also contends that the proposed amendment was altered so much before its wording was accepted that it failed to meet a legal requirement that all constitutional amendments be filed at least 10 days before a legislative session begins.
Louisiana is among at least 11 states in which voters will decide this fall whether their constitutions should be amended to forbid gay marriage. Seven such proposals, including the one approved last week by Missouri voters, were put on the ballot by the state legislatures. Petition drives put four more on the ballot. Signatures are being counted in two more states to determine if the issue will be on those ballots.