Despite the Louisiana supreme court's Wednesday decision to uphold a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in the state, some gay rights lawyers were still declaring victory. "This is a win. This is a complete win for what we had been asking the court to do," declared Randy Evans, attorney for the Forum for Equality. "The right of people in same-sex couples and, for that matter, all Louisianians to enter into contracts and wills and dispose of property has been completely protected by the supreme court," said another gay rights attorney, John Rawls.
Buoying their optimism was a single 10-line footnote among the more than 30 pages handed down Wednesday by the high court. It said the amendment would "not impair any property rights, which are not 'identical or substantially similar to' the package of unique property rights necessary to marriage." It gave specific examples involving co-ownership of property, one partner designating the other as an agent for making critical medical or legal decisions, and inheritance rights.
Evans praised the ruling as one "worthy of Solomon." "They have preserved an amendment that the voters approved in terms of who can get married and who can't, but at the same time they have preserved all the rights that unmarried couples have had in Louisiana and they have left all of
those rights intact," Evans said. As for the right to marry, Evans said, "You have to be a political realist, and that's just not where Louisiana is right now. In 20 years or 30 years or 50 years that may be something that Louisiana's ready for, but that's just not in the cards right now."
Not all gay rights advocates were as content with the ruling. Chris Daigle, a longtime gay activist in New Orleans and currently a candidate for a state legislative seat, said the rights of some gay couples remain in jeopardy under the ruling, including those who want to file joint tax returns or jointly adopt
children. "The real threats to marriage still exist," Daigle said. "High divorce rates, high adultery rates, poverty, lack of education, parents having to hold more than one job. Those are the real threats to marriage."
Lawmakers voted last summer to put the amendment on the ballot, and 78% of voters in the September 18 election approved it. Gay rights activists argued that it was adopted illegally because the state
constitution requires that amendments have a single purpose. The amendment's ban on civil unions as well as marriage was a fatal flaw, they said. Supreme court justices rejected the argument unanimously, reversing the decision of a Baton Rouge district judge. The high court ruling, written by Justice Jeanette Theriot Knoll, said that "each provision of the amendment is germane to the single object of defense of marriage and constitutes an element of the plan advanced to achieve this object."
Conservative groups uniformly praised the ruling. Michael Johnson, the attorney who argued for the amendment for the Alliance Defense Fund, said opponents who raised fears that private contracts involving estates, medical decisions, and employee benefits had used "scare tactics" in their fight against
the amendment. The author of the amendment, Republican state representative Steve Scalise of Jefferson, said he was pleased by the decision. "This makes it clear that marriage will remain a sacred union between a man and a woman and removes the ability of activist judges from changing that definition," Scalise said in a statement issued by his office. "I'm proud that the court rejected all of the misinformation put out by the opponents of traditional marriage." (AP)