Saturday, May 29, 2004

Judge faults language used in gay-union ban



By Andrew Welsh-Huggins
The Associated Press

COLUMBUS - Both sides in a legal fight over a constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage claimed victory Friday after a judge's ruling on petitions to place the amendment on the November ballot.

The proposed summary of the amendment for the petitions is misleading, not fair and not truthful, according to the 12-page ruling by Judge Daniel Hogan of Franklin County Common Pleas Court.

The amendment seeks to bar any type of civil unions or the legal privileges of marriage to any cohabiting couple.

But Hogan also found the requirement under state law that petitions include a summary unconstitutional. He questioned the need for the summary requirement for a two-sentence amendment.

"Such a requirement is unconstitutional in this case because it restricts rather than facilitates the petition process," Hogan said.

Backers of the amendment had not circulated petitions that included the summary, said David Langdon, an attorney representing Ohio Campaign to Protect Marriage. The group began circulating petitions a week ago that contained only the amendment itself.

"The case was moot at the point we started circulating the petition without the summary," Langdon said Friday.

However, he said Hogan's decision could benefit the group if further challenges arise as expected.

"Certainly, the lawsuits are not going to come to an end," Langdon said. "We anticipate one after the other until it's on the ballot or it's killed."

Hogan says the summary of the amendment is misleading because it would be read as denying the moral validity of same-sex relationships while the amendment is concerned only with their legal validity.

He says the summary also leaves open the possibility of a legal status that would be close to marriage in some ways but not others.

The lawsuit by Thom Rankin and Raymond Zander of Westlake says the summary refers only to denying legal recognition to marriage by same-sex couples or polygamous couples, so people signing the petitions might not understand the more far-reaching effect.

"The decision comes down very strongly on our principal contention, which is that this summary is not fair and not truthful," said Don McTigue, the couple's Columbus attorney.

Hogan declined to stop the amendment backers from circulating the petitions, saying that would violate their free-speech rights.

Attorney General Jim Petro last month certified the summary as fair and truthful. A message was left with Petro spokeswoman Kim Norris seeking comment.

The petitioners must submit 322,899 valid signatures of registered voters to Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell by Aug. 4 to qualify for the November ballot.




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