ACLU Says Even Attorneys Who Support Arkansas' So-Called "Marriage" Amendment Don't Understand What It Means

Affiliate: ACLU of Arkansas
August 27, 2004 12:00 am

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ACLU of Arkansas
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Confusion Proves Just How Vague and Misleading Ballot Measure Is, ACLU Says

LITTLE ROCK, AR — Even the attorneys representing the group responsible for getting a proposed amendment to the Arkansas Constitution on the November ballot disagree on the meaning of the amendment, charged the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, which filed legal papers yesterday in the Arkansas Supreme Court saying the measure should be stricken from the ballot because it is vague and misleading, and too hard for voters to understand.

The disagreement between the attorneys for the Arkansas Marriage Amendment Committee took place at a press conference called by the Committee following the ACLU’s announcement of court action. The Committee denounced the ACLU’s legal challenge, saying the amendment was completely clear, and calling the ACLU’s appeal to the state’s highest court ‘undemocratic.’

“If the lawyers for the group supporting the amendment don’t even agree about what it means, how can anyone expect the average voter to understand what they’re voting for?” said Blake Rutherford, a Little Rock volunteer attorney working with the ACLU of Arkansas on the case.

Rita Sklar, Executive Director of the ACLU of Arkansas, added, “I find it interesting that Jerry Cox, President of this Committee and also Director of the Arkansas Family Council called our legal action ‘undemocratic,’ when the Family Council’s close political ally, Larry Page, used the same strategy and arguments to knock two gambling measures off the ballot in 1994-saying they went much further than voters realized in permitting gambling in Arkansas. Does Cox think that effort was ‘undemocratic’ too? This court process is in place for a reason-so that the Arkansas law will not be altered in extreme ways by voters who didn’t understand what they were voting for.”

Arguments the ACLU has made for striking the measure from the ballot include the ideas that:

  • People are being deliberately mislead into thinking the ballot only bans same sex marriage, when it also prohibits civil unions and domestic partner benefits (the terms “civil union” and “domestic partnership” are not even used in the amendment, but are alluded to in legal terminology; the ballot measure title, “An Amendment Concerning Marriage” doesn’t begin to adequately describe its true nature.
  • There are possible ramifications for married heterosexual people, single people, and people who are in recognized common law marriages.

It was on the issue of common-law marriages that attorneys supporting the amendment could not agree. “I think the attorneys made our point on how unclear the language is better than we ever could have,” said Sklar.

Other instances where the Arkansas Supreme Court has removed amendments from the ballot because they failed to provide the voter with sufficient information as to the effect of the amendment include:

  • Page v. McCuen (1994) specified sites for casinos but was not specific in the ballot title of the location of those sites.
  • Bailey v. McCuen (1994) would have rewritten the Arkansas Worker’s Compensation System.
  • Crochet v. Priest (1996) would have established the Arkansas Lottery Commission.
  • Kurrus v. Priest (2000) would have eliminated state and local sales tax on goods and require popular majority approval for any tax increase.
  • Roberts v. Priest (2000) would have abolished property taxes and replaced lost revenue with an increased sales tax.

For more information, see news release at /node/9581

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