Thursday, August 10, 2006

Court nixes marriage referendum appeal

Court nixes marriage referendum appeal
By Gary Barlow
Copyright by The Chicago Free Press

The United States 7th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected an anti-gay group’s request for an injunction Aug. 4 that would have stopped the Illinois State Board of Elections from rejecting the group’s effort to put a referendum against same-sex marriage on the November election ballot.

The injunction denial followed an Aug. 2 decision by U.S. District Court Judge Elaine Bucklo that upheld Illinois election laws regarding referendums and said that the ISBE followed those laws when it ruled in late June that the anti-gay group, Protect Marriage Illinois, didn’t have enough valid voter signatures on petitions it submitted to the ISBE seeking the referendum.

In early May PMI filed petitions containing more than 347,000 signatures requesting the advisory referendum, which, if approved by voters, would have urged the Illinois General Assembly to pass an amendment to the Illinois Constitution banning gay and lesbian marriages. Illinois already has a state law that bans such marriages.

But in late June, the ISBE ruled that PMI’s petitions included tens of thousands of signatures that weren’t from registered Illinois voters or were invalid because of other errors. The ISBE said the petitions didn’t contain the required 283,000 valid signatures because of those errors.

PMI had the option of validating the signatures that were declared invalid but the group said it was impossible for it to go over each signature and do that. Gay rights advocates laughed at that assertion, noting that a coalition they’d formed to battle the referendum, the Fair Illinois Committee, had used volunteers to scrutinize every signature in the petitions in a matter of weeks. Fair Illinois, an effort put together by Equality Illinois, Lambda Legal, PFLAG, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Gay Liberation Network and others, submitted challenges of thousands of the signatures to the ISBE.

After Bucklo’s court ruling Aug. 2, PMI asked for an emergency injunction in order to stop an ISBE hearing on the petitions Aug. 5. The appeals court ruling Aug. 4 rejected the injunction request and the ISBE hearing went forward.

At the hearing PMI officials acknowledged that they would not be able to validate enough signatures to prove that the initial ISBE ruling rejecting the petitions was wrong. As a result, the ISBE hearing officer said she would recommend that the ISBE approve a final rejection of the petitions and not put the referendum on the ballot.

“The court said the state has an interest in making sure that petitions are correctly signed,” said Lambda attorney Jim Madigan.

Madigan said PMI’s appeal of Bucklo’s ruling is going forward, with briefs slated to be filed in the next two weeks, but said he doubted PMI would succeed in court. He said it was ironic that the right-wing group was looking for a federal court to intervene and declare a state election law invalid.

“You often hear ‘state’s rights’ and ‘activist judges’ as a mantra by these groups, but here you have them asking federal judges to overturn state law and looking for an activist judge to do that,” Madigan said.


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