Oklahoma sends amendment to voters, Oregon effort hits snag

( [email protected] ) Apr 26, 2004 12:34 PM EDT

While pro-family groups in Oregon ran into an expected but unwelcome snag in their effort to pass a marriage amendment there, Oklahoma became the fifth state to send a constitutional marriage amendment to voters joining Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi and Utah.

On Thursday, April 22, the Oklahoma House passed a marriage amendment by a vote of 92-4, sending the issue to state citizens for a fall vote. The amendment, which passed the state Senate 38-7 a week earlier, would protect the traditional definition of marriage, thus banning same-sex "marriage."

"Oklahomans deserve the right to protect traditional marriage, and they'll get a chance to do so this November," Senate Republican leader James Williamson said, according to the Associated Press.

Meanwhile, in Oregon, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a challenge to the ballot title of a proposed marriage amendment, delaying efforts by pro-family groups in gathering the signatures required to put the amendment on the ballot. They need approximately 100,000 signatures by July 2, although they likely will shoot much higher in case the state tosses out several thousand of the petitions as being invalid.

Even though the petition process began in early March, the actual petitions have yet to be certified by the state. If the ACLU had not acted, pro-family groups likely would have been gathering signatures within days. However, now, that could be weeks away.

Kelly Clark, a lawyer for the Oregon Defense of Marriage Coalition, told reporters, "I'm quite sure that the ACLU has at least as much interest in delaying the process of the ballot measure as it has any real concern about the inaccuracy of the ballot title. … A huge question will be how quickly the Supreme Court turns that around."

The Oregon Supreme Court is responsible for handling the challenge by the ACLU. Clark said the court usually is sensitive to the fact that the clock is ticking on gathering signatures. He said he hopes to hear something in approximately four weeks.

Because churches are involved heavily, supporters are confident they can obtain a large amount of signatures in a short amount of time.

"The sponsors think that with the ruling in four weeks, which would leave us about six weeks to gather signatures, that they could get it on the ballot," Clark said.

But if it takes the court six weeks to decide, leaving only four weeks to gather signatures, "that's going to be a much closer call," Clark said.

The text of the Oregon amendment reads: "It is the public policy of Oregon, and its political subdivisions, that only marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or legally recognized as a marriage."

ACLU Oregon’s Dave Fidanque said the ballot title should inform voters that the amendment would prevent state courts from ruling for same-sex "marriage."

"The ballot title should tell voters that the measure would eliminate the ability of same-sex couples to at least make that argument in court," he said, according to the Salem Statesman-Journal in Oregon.

While Oregon legislators could send a marriage amendment to voters, thus far they have been lukewarm to the idea.

Also, pro-family groups in Michigan and Ohio have announced plans to gather signatures in an attempt to put a marriage amendment on the ballot in those states.

While at least 38 states have laws explicitly banning same-sex "marriage," only four of them deal with the issue in their respective constitutions. State constitutional amendments are considered to be greater protection against court rulings -- such as the one in Massachusetts -- than are state laws.

Nationally, pro-family groups are pushing for a federal constitutional marriage amendment, noting that federal courts can strike down state constitutional marriage amendments. Nebraska's marriage amendment is being challenged in federal court.