By Lisa Keen
A federal appeals court this month agreed to hear, on an expedited basis, an appeal from an anti-gay marriage group which failed to collect sufficient signatures to put an initiative on the ballot in Illinois this November. Meanwhile a state judge in Arizona ruled August 11 that a ballot measure seeking a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage can appear on this November’s ballot.
With the latest developments, it appears at least eight states will have marriage measures on the ballot this November – four of them in states where important U.S. Senate battles are shaping up.
Illinois does not have a U.S. Senator up for re-election this year, but if voters approved an advisory initiative this year, it could pressure the state legislature to approve a constitutional ban next year, setting up the marriage conflict to be on the ballot in 2008 – when Illinois sits as a crucial state in the presidential election and when U.S. Senator Richard Durbin – a strong supporter of equal marriage rights – will be up for re-election.
In Illinois, the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals agreed this month to hear an appeal from the Protect Marriage Illinois group. The group needed to collect 283,111 signatures to secure a place on the ballot; it claimed to have submitted 345,199; but, state election officials said the petitions submitted failed to pass its test for signature validity.
Illinois already has a statute prohibiting recognition of same-sex marriage, but Protect Marriage Illinois is seeking the advisory initiative to pressure the state legislature into approving a constitutional amendment banning them. While a statute can potentially be overturned by a court if it is found to be unconstitutional, a ban created through amending the constitution eliminates that vulnerability.
The Protect Marriage group is represented in court by the Alliance Defense Fund, a legal group founded by Focus on the Family leader James Dobson and other religious right leaders. The ADF just last month won a ruling from the 7th Circuit in one of several lawsuits it has around the country to protect campus recognition of a Christian legal group that discriminates against gays. One of the judges who ruled for the Alliance in its case against Southern Illinois University last month is set to hear its expedited appeal against Illinois election officials next month.
The Alliance is also representing Protect Marriage Arizona, which won a state court ruling for its proposed constitutional ban on same-sex marriage this month. Opponents of the ballot measure had challenged it based on a now routine argument that it asked voters to vote once on a measure that addressed multiple issues. Election laws in most states prohibit individual ballot measures from posing more than one question. The state superior court judge in Maricopa County concluded that the proposed Arizona measure “has but one purpose, the protection of marriage by preventing redefinition and extension of official status to marriage substitutes.”
Arizona Together, a group which opposes the ballot measure, filed an appeal with the state supreme court which would have to rule on the appeal by August 31 in order for the measure to be printed on the November ballots, according to the Arizona Republic.
Two of the state supreme court’s five justices are up for re-election this November and, according to the Business Journal of Phoenix, U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl and Rep. J.D. Hayworth, both Republicans, face tough re-election bids this November.
Important U.S. Senate races are also building in Tennessee, Virginia, and Wisconsin – all of which have anti-gay marriage measures on their ballots this November. Democrats need to pick up six senate seats to win a majority in that house and the growing public opposition to the war in Iraq has made many Republicans feel vulnerable.