Sunday, September 19, 2004

Louisiana Voters Approve Gay-Marriage Ban

Louisiana Voters Approve Gay-Marriage Ban
Louisiana Voters OK State Amendment Banning Same-Sex Marriage; Opponents Vow Court Challenge
The Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS Sept. 18, 2004 — Louisiana voters overwhelmingly approved a state constitutional amendment Saturday banning same-sex marriages and civil unions, one of up to 12 such measures on the ballot around the country this year.
With 95 percent of precincts reporting, the amendment was winning approval with 79 percent of the vote and support for it was evident statewide. Only in New Orleans, home to a politically strong gay community, did the race appear to be close, and even there the amendment was passing by a small margin.
Christian conservatives had conducted an intense grassroots lobbying campaign for the amendment, which had been expected to pass easily. The civil rights group Forum for Equality had already promised legal action against it.
"It's gratifying to see the people of Louisiana had an opportunity, as distinguished from judges, having the final say on the issue of whether traditonal marriage will continue to be the fundamental institution in our state," said Darrell White, a retired state judge and consultant for Louisiana Family Forum, which pushed for the amendment.
John Rawls, a lawyer for Forum for Equality, reiterated the group's contention that the amendment does far more than stop gay marriage and that it could affect many private contracts between unmarried couples, gay or straight.
"I am disappointed that so many Louisianians either did not read the amendent or are so afraid of gays that they voted for this amendment anyway," Rawls said.
Louisiana already has a law stating that marriage can be only between a man and woman, but supporters of the amendment want to protect that law in the Constitution. The amendment also would prohibit state officials and courts from recognizing out-of-state marriages and civil unions between homosexuals.
Rawls said there were many possible grounds for challenging the results in state and federal court. One appeared Saturday, when voting machines were delivered late to some New Orleans precincts, keeping some from casting ballots for hours.
State director of elections Frances Sims said at least 59 precincts did not have voting machines when polls opened because officials with New Orleans' clerk of court's office failed to meet drivers who tried to deliver the machines earlier that morning. The problem was solved by midday.
Julius Green, 58, said he went to his polling place in New Orleans' Bywater neighborhood about 10 a.m. and found no voting machines just a crowd.
"This is ridiculous," Green said. "It makes people feel that their vote don't count."
Gay rights advocates say the amendment would deprive gay and straight unmarried couples of the right to enter into certain contracts and own property together.
Supporters of the ban disagree, including LSU law school professor Katherine Spaht, who helped write the amendment. "It doesn't touch private contracts," she said.
Still, advocates on both sides agreed it will be up to the courts to decide exactly what the amendment does and does not do.
First, however, courts may have to step in and decide if the amendment was legally adopted. In challenges that went to the state Supreme Court, Forum for Equality said the Legislature made several mistakes in putting the measure together, chief among them adding the ban on civil unions into the amendment. Amendments are supposed to have a single purpose, opponents said.
That challenge was turned away when the courts ruled that it could not be brought before the election.
Similar amendments to ban same-sex marriage are on ballots in Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon and Utah. Petitions in Ohio are still being verified.