Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Anti-gay activists file suit over marriage referendum

Anti-gay activists file suit over marriage referendum
By Gary Barlow
Copyright by The Chicago Free Press

Anti-gay activists filed suit last week in federal court in Chicago, asking the court to overturn Illinois election laws and order the state to put a referendum on gay marriage on the November election ballot.

The suit was filed in U.S. District Court by Protect Marriage Illinois, a group formed by the anti-gay Illinois Family Institute to push for an advisory referendum aimed at urging the Illinois Legislature to pass an amendment to the Illinois Constitution banning gays and lesbians from marrying.

In early May PMI submitted petitions containing more than 347,000 signatures in support of the referendum to the Illinois State Board of Elections. After reviewing the petitions, the ISBE notified PMI in late June that its random check of the petitions had found so many errors and invalid signatures that the petitions were presumed to not have the required 283,000 signatures from registered Illinois voters needed to put it on the ballot.

In the lawsuit filed last week, lawyers for the anti-gay group claimed that the ISBE acted improperly when it ruled against the referendum. Among other things, PMI’s lawyers argued that the ISBE held PMI to unreasonable standards—”Few true determinations can be made as to the genuineness of a signature,” the lawsuit alleged.

The suit also challenged Illinois election laws, arguing that it is “the whole statewide scheme of state validation of the petition signatures that deprives the plaintiffs of their fundamental rights.”

The lawsuit also names Cook County Clerk David Orr and the Chicago Board of Elections as defendants, though it’s unclear why that was done.

Equality Illinois’ Rick Garcia scoffed at the lawsuit.

“This is garbage, frankly,” Garcia said.

Equality formed a coalition, the Fair Illinois Committee, with other groups, including the Gay Liberation Network, PFLAG, the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal, to fight the referendum. Fair Illinois volunteers scrutinized every signature in the PMI petitions, leading to challenges of tens of thousands of the signatures. Those signatures should be disqualified, Fair Illinois officials said, because they aren’t from registered Illinois voters or are improper for other reasons.

But following its random check, the ISBE booted the petition off the ballot before considering the Fair Illinois challenges.

In contrast to Fair Illinois, PMI claimed in its lawsuit that “it is not considered possible” for it to go through and “rehabilitate” each signature declared invalid by the ISBE “since it cannot recruit sufficient manpower.”

Garcia scoffed at that excuse.

“Frankly, they have many more financial resources than we do,” Garcia said. “We did it and we didn’t pay anybody to do it.”

Garcia said the anti-gay activists, by going to court, are forcing Illinois taxpayers to spend more money on an issue that’s already cost the state and county clerks thousands of dollars.

“They’re costing taxpayers an enormous amount of money,” he said, adding that PMI leaders should work within the law.

“We know that they don’t have the signatures, and now they are trying to circumvent the law and ask for special rights,” Garcia said. “Our message to them is, ‘You do have t o follow the rules.’”

A hearing on the lawsuit is scheduled Aug. 4.


Post a Comment

<< Home