Supporters of a ballot measure to amend the Louisiana constitution to ban same-sex marriage in the state won the latest round of legal arguments as the issue made its way to the state supreme court. On Monday the state fourth circuit court of appeal overturned a New Orleans judge's ruling that the ban was unconstitutional and should be removed from the September 18 ballot. The ruling came in one of three lawsuits filed by gay activists to keep voters from casting ballots on the amendment. The state supreme court has already been asked to hear arguments in the first two cases, and attorney John Rawls said he is working on the third. "We do intend to take a writ to the supreme court and will ask that they consider all three together," Rawls said.
The "Defense of Marriage" amendment, approved by state lawmakers earlier this year, would also bar state officials and courts from recognizing out-of-state marriages and civil unions of gay and lesbian couples. The suits were filed on behalf of a group called Forum for Equality, arguing that the amendment is unconstitutional because it would deprive unmarried couples--gay or straight--of the right to enter into certain contracts. Supporters of the ban disagree.
In Monday's ruling, the five-judge panel of the fourth circuit overturned an order from civil district judge Christopher Bruno, who deemed the amendment unconstitutional because it dealt with more than one issue and because a statewide election does not fall on September 18. Bruno had ordered the amendment off the ballot. The appeals court hinted that the amendment might deal with more than one
issue--banning both gay marriage and recognition of out-of-state gay marriages, for instance--but found that the points are "germane to one another sufficiently." State law allows a legal challenge on that point only after an election takes place, the court ruled. The court also reversed Bruno's determination that a statewide election does not fall on September 18--the amendment will be the only item on the ballot in several parishes. The judges ruled that the amendment's appearance on those ballots automatically makes that date a statewide election.
Supporters of the ban issued a statement criticizing the lawsuits as an attempt to prevent voters from deciding the issue. "No matter how hard they try, opponents of this amendment keep failing in
their attempt to use the courts to circumvent the will of the people," said Mike Johnson, a Shreveport lawyer for the conservative Alliance Defense Fund.