Louisiana gay marriage ban may wipe out DP benefits

The constitutional amendment approved Saturday in Louisiana to ban same-sex marriage will wipe out New Orleans's benefits for partners of city workers who sign onto a domestic-partner registry, say attorneys challenging the amendment. "The only immediate direct effect of this amendment is to abolish the New Orleans domestic-partner registry ordinance. That is exactly what the people behind this amendment wanted," attorney John Rawls said. "They sued to abolish it and lost in court. So they stuck it in a craftily worded amendment." City attorneys have said they don't think the amendment will affect the city ordinance. Mayoral spokeswoman Tanzie Jones reiterated that Wednesday but said she did not know the legal basis for the contention and that city attorneys were busy with another matter.

Michael Johnson, a Shreveport attorney who has argued in favor of the amendment, said it adds a new argument to his challenge of New Orleans's domestic-partnership ordinance. "I think and would argue that a domestic partnership is, quote-unquote, substantially similar to marriage," said Johnson, who is affiliated with the Arizona-based Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative Christian group. That suit was thrown out on grounds that the ADF plaintiffs had sued as taxpayers, but the policy did not cost taxpayers additional money. Johnson has appealed that decision.

The marriage amendment passed with 78% of Saturday's vote. Even in Orleans parish--the only parish where it got less than 71% of the vote--it got 55% of the vote and passed in two thirds of the city's 442 precincts. Just when it would go into effect depends on Louisiana's secretary of state and governor. Secretary of State Fox McKeithen has up to 12 days to make the results official. It would become part of the constitution 20 days after Gov. Kathleen Blanco's official proclamation of the amendment. There does not appear to be any time limit for her to do that, said Chris Wartell, spokeswoman for Atty. Gen. Charles Foti.

The sentence that Rawls said will annihilate New Orleans's ordinance states, "A legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized." "For a city to confer recognition upon a domestic partnership creates a legal status substantially similar to marriage for unmarried individuals," Rawls said. "And that is why the word recognized is in this amendment. "It says not only will unmarried couples not have any valid legal status, but it also says there can be no recognized status by a legal action." The rest of the amendment has no immediate effect, Rawls said. It outlaws same-sex marriage and bans recognition of other states' same-sex marriages--both already forbidden under state law. It also outlaws civil unions, which
Louisiana does not have, Rawls said.

Judges in two state appeals courts said opponents could not challenge the amendment's legal status unless it was approved. Randy Evans, an attorney with the Forum for Equality, said the group will sue under the election code. He said that must be done within 10 calendar days after McKeithen certifies the election results. Certification might be delayed by the problem of getting voting machines to 90 precincts in New Orleans, something that is being investigated by the state attorney general's office.

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