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Louisiana court rules against suit seeking to block vote on gay marriage

Louisiana court rules against suit seeking to block vote on gay marriage

A proposed amendment to the Louisiana constitution outlawing same-sex marriage and civil unions can appear on Louisiana's September 18 ballot, according to a Tuesday ruling by the state fourth circuit court of appeal. It was the second victory in as many days for supporters of the amendment. The first circuit court of appeal in Baton Rouge had already ruled on Monday that the measure should appear on the ballot. John Rawls, attorney for gay rights supporters who filed the suit, said he was disappointed in the ruling, which will be appealed to the state supreme court. Monday's first circuit ruling said a lawsuit seeking to block the measure from appearing on the September 18 ballot was "premature" because state law allows an election challenge only after the election occurs. The ruling came the same day the fourth circuit judges heard arguments in the case. The "defense of marriage" amendment is sponsored by state representative Steve Scalise, a Jefferson Parish Republican, and the legislature overwhelmingly approved it earlier this year. It would also prevent state officials and courts from recognizing out-of-state marriages and civil unions between same-sex couples. Several lawsuits were filed against the state over the proposed amendment, arguing that such a ban would illegally strip unmarried couples of their right to enter into legal contracts over wills and child custody. Opponents also say the amendment was illegally adopted by the legislature in violation of laws that require an amendment to have a single purpose. By including a ban on civil unions, the amendment denies a clear vote for people who oppose gay marriage but favor government recognition of civil unions, opponents of the amendment have argued. Gay marriage itself was not at issue in Monday's appellate hearings. The judges questioned lawyers on three points: whether the September 18 election is technically statewide, as required for votes on constitutional amendments; whether it deals with only one issue, as required; and whether it can be legally challenged before the election occurs. In its ruling, the first circuit agreed with Roy Mongrue, a lawyer for the state who made arguments before both courts. If judges prevent the measure from going to the voters, they would be usurping the role of the legislature, said Mongrue, an assistant attorney general. "There's no need to stop this election," Mongrue told the five-judge panel in New Orleans. "These plaintiffs clearly don't have a right to stop this process." Both sides agreed that the state constitution does not address whether an amendment can be challenged before the electorate has a chance to vote on it. Rawls said the judges should order the amendment taken off the ballots because, if passed, it would jeopardize legal contracts between unmarried couples, whether they are of the same sex or different sexes. Calling the amendment "illegal," Rawls said it is the judges' responsibility to block the vote. "The people of Louisiana have expectations of a clean, legal ballot," he said. "This amendment would take away rights that are inalienable and inviolate."

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