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Judge says
marriage ban initiative needs clarification

Judge says
marriage ban initiative needs clarification

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In a ruling hailed as a victory by those on both sides of the issue, a California judge on Thursday ruled that a proposed ballot initiative that would strip domestic partners of their rights needs more clarification before signature gathering can begin.

A judge ordered California's attorney general on Thursday to clarify his summary of a proposed constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage in the state as well as strip same-sex couples of domestic-partnership rights. Ruling in a lawsuit brought by sponsors of the measure, Sacramento superior court judge Raymond M. Cadei ruled that the description the attorney general had written to go on the petitions that will be used to qualify the measure for the ballot could be misinterpreted by some voters.

Gay rights activists hailed the decision and pointed out that the judge effectively upheld the language used by California attorney general Bill Lockyer to officially describe the proposed initiative. Proponents of the so-called Voters' Right to Protect Marriage Initiative also hailed the ruling as a chance to get a summary that puts the focus on "protecting marriage," not the stripping of rights from domestic partners. Lockyer issued language that makes it clear that one of the main impacts of the proposed constitutional amendment would be to eliminate the obligations and protections that California law now provides to registered domestic partners.

Judge Cadei said that Lockyer's summary and title were fair and impartial and has asked for clarifying language regarding certain domestic-partnership rights that would be eliminated. From the bench Cadei said, "The initiative seems to put a fairly large bull's eye on domestic partnership rights in the family code."

The judge gave the amendment's sponsors, the attorney general, and representatives from gay rights organizations two weeks to sit down and rewrite a version of the petition language that all parties find acceptable. Once that is done, the group VoteYesMarriage.com has 150 days to gather the 598,105 signatures it needs to put the amendment before voters in June 2006.

"Today's ruling was in favor of truth and honesty in our election system and a blow to the proponents' attempts to hide the ball from California's voters," said Jennifer C. Pizer, senior counsel with Lambda Legal and the lead counsel for a group of organizations and individuals that were granted the right to intervene in the dispute. "Their intention is to not only permanently ban marriage equality but this amendment would also strip rights from registered domestic partners. Voters are entitled to know that."

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