ACLU Files Challenge to Misleading Arkansas "Marriage" Ballot Initiative

Affiliate: ACLU of Arkansas
August 26, 2004 12:00 am

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ACLU of Arkansas
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

LITTLE ROCK, AR--The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas today filed a legal challenge on behalf of three concerned citizens against the so-called ""Amendment Concerning Marriage,"" charging that the ballot initiative violates the Arkansas state constitution. The ACLU said the ballot's title and text is misleading to voters and, if passed, could potentially make significant changes to the legal landscape for single Arkansans.

""As a lifelong Arkansan and someone with close family members who are gay, I find this proposed amendment scary and misleading,"" said Susan May, who, along with her husband Ron, is challenging the initiative. ""Marriage for same-sex couples isn't legal in Arkansas to begin with, and this initiative goes way too far in trying to require that the law always treats gay couples as strangers.""

If the initiative were to pass, some of the potential outcomes the ACLU of Arkansas cited include:

  • Although voters are led to believe that the amendment only addresses marriage for same-sex couples, it could impact far more than marriage alone by denying recognition of other types of relationships, such as civil unions or domestic partnerships.
  • The amendment raises questions about the status of common-law marriages and about certain rights single people currently have. For example, single Arkansans could suddenly find themselves without the protections Arkansas law currently provides against marital status discrimination when applying for credit.
  • The amendment would grant greatly increased power to the legislature over what the legal rights and obligations of marriage are. The legislature could, for example, take homestead protections involving bankruptcy away from married people, even though such protections are currently a state constitutional right.

""For starters, this amendment would give the legislature the power to ignore Arkansas's current protections for married people,"" said Rita Sklar, Executive Director of the ACLU of Arkansas. ""The Arkansas constitution currently grants married people the right to keep their homes if they go bankrupt, but with this amendment this right could be swept away by the legislature.""

""We're also concerned about the potential loss of rights to single people, since the amendment's wording could mean that any law prohibiting discrimination based on marital status is invalid,"" Sklar added. ""Single people could return to their former position as second-class citizens when it comes to things like availability of credit. But most of all, we think the average voter standing in the voting booth is not going to be able to see all the possible effects of this amendment: they'll just think they're voting against same-sex marriage.""

In addition to the Mays, Arkansas resident Bill Bradford is also stepping forward to challenge the amendment.

""When my partner Herbert died last summer, my whole life changed overnight,"" said Bradford. ""Not only did I lose the person I'd loved and been committed to for 53 years, but we were treated as legal strangers to each other - his pension benefits were cut off and I discovered we couldn't be interred side by side at the Arkansas State Veterans Cemetery, even though we are both veterans.""

""If this amendment makes it onto the ballot and is passed, it won't change what happened to me, but it could mean that it happens to even more people in the future,"" added Bradford. ""We never wanted to be married, but why shouldn't we have enjoyed the rights and benefits received by other people who have been together as long as we had?""

The Arkansans challenging the amendment are represented by ACLU of Arkansas staff attorney Grif Stockley and co-operating attorneys Mac Norton and Blake S. Rutherford of Little Rock.

For more information on marriage equality and lesbian and gay rights see: /LesbianGayRights/LesbianGayRightsMain.cfm

The text of proposed amendment reads as follows:

Popular Name: Proposed Constitution Amendment No. 3

Ballot Title: An Amendment Concerning Marriage

A proposed amendment to the Arkansas constitution providing that marriage consists only of the union of one man and one woman; that legal status for unmarried person which is identical or substantially similar to marital status shall not be valid or recognized in Arkansas, except that the Legislature may recognize a common law marriage from another state between a man and a woman; and that the legislature has the power to determine the capacity of persons to marry, subject to this amendment, and the legal rights, obligations, privileges, and immunities of marriage.

Be it enacted by the people of the State of Arkansas:

SECTION 1: Marriage

Marriage consists only of the union of one man and one woman.

SECTION 2: Martial Status

Legal status for unmarried persons which is identical or substantially similar to marital status shall not be valid or recognized in Arkansas, except that the Legislature may recognize a common law marriage from another state between a man and a woman.

SECTION 3: Capacity, rights, obligations, privileges, and immunities.

The Legislature has the power to determine the capacity of persons to marry, subject to this amendment, and the legal rights, obligations, privileges, and immunities of marriage.

And by this, our petition, order that the same be submitted to the people of said State, to the end that the same may be adopted or rejected by the vote of legal voters of said State at the regular general election to be held on the 2nd day of November, 2004, and each of us for himself says: I have personally signed this petition; I am a legal voter of the State of Arkansas, and my printed name, date of birth, residence, city of town of residence, and date of signing this petition are correctly written after by signature.

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