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Judge blocks vote on Louisiana marriage amendment

Judge blocks vote on Louisiana marriage amendment

A judge on Friday blocked a September 18 vote on a Louisiana state constitutional ban on same-sex marriages, but he suspended his order so the state can take an appeal directly to the state supreme court. Acting on a suit contending that such a ban would violate the constitution, civil district judge Christopher Bruno stuck down the balloting, at least temporarily, on the grounds that September 18 is not a statewide election date. There are nine parishes that have no elections other than the vote on the proposed constitutional amendment. Bruno suspended implementation of his order until the state can appeal to the Louisiana supreme court. He gave them a week and scheduled a trial for August 20 on making his order permanent. Louisiana already has a law stating that marriage can only be heterosexual. Proponents want to "protect" that law by passing the constitutional amendment. Opponents said the amendment would be illegal because it would violate rights guaranteed under the state constitution. John Rawls, lead attorney for the plaintiffs, said he was elated by the ruling and called it "a great day for the Louisiana state constitution." "All Louisianians fall into one minority or another," Rawls said. "The constitution is there to protect minorities from the majority." During arguments Friday, attorneys for opponents and the state argued over the proposal's constitutionality--an issue that Bruno did not address during his later ruling. Asst. Atty. Gen. Roy Mongrue said the Louisiana constitution is the people's definition of their government and that they are free to change their minds. "People cannot pass an unrepealable constitution.... Why? The people put it together," Mongrue said. A group known as the Forum for Equality and three individual plaintiffs sued to block the amendment from going on the ballot. Monday is the deadline for printing that ballot, and leaving the amendment off would eliminate any chance of a vote even if courts later decide it should have been included, Mongrue said. "If an amendment is clearly unconstitutional, every taxpayer and every voter has the right to prevent money from being spent to mess up the ballot," Rawls said. Louisiana's constitution gives people an absolute right to make contracts and to own property, Rawls said. The amendment would violate that right by invalidating contracts between gay or lesbian partners, he said. In addition, Rawls said, it would violate a requirement that any constitutional amendment serve one purpose and one alone. By forbidding any "legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals," the amendment would outlaw a host of other relationships, he said. Although the case before Bruno was filed under a law that makes a city part of any suit involving one of its ordinances, city attorneys made no arguments. A New Orleans ordinance lets city employees include same- or opposite-sex partners in their family health plans. A nearly identical case was dismissed Monday because it was brought under the election code, and state law requires all such suits to be filed in Baton Rouge. Forum attorneys both took that ruling to the fourth circuit court of appeals and filed another suit Thursday in state district court in Baton Rouge. The fourth circuit is scheduled to take up the appeal on Wednesday. The Baton Rouge suit was scheduled to be heard Monday by Judge Michael Caldwell. Louisiana is among at least 11 states where voters will decide this fall whether their constitutions should be amended to forbid gay marriage. Petition signatures are being counted in two more states to determine if the issue will be on those ballots.

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