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Appeals court rules against Ill. marriage referendum

CHICAGO (BP)–A non-binding referendum supporting a constitutional marriage amendment in Illinois apparently won’t be on the ballot this November after a federal appeals court Sept. 6 ruled against amendment supporters.

The three judge panel of the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Illinois law governing so-called “advisory questions” is constitutional, turning aside a key argument by amendment backers. The ruling affirmed a lower court opinion that also went against supporters.

The decision apparently ends what seemed to be a successful petition drive just four months ago. In May Protect Marriage Illinois turned in approximately 345,000 signatures supportive of the referendum, which appeared to be well beyond the 283,000 signatures required. But local board of elections officials tossed out many of the signatures as invalid, and a sample of 5 percent of the signatures by the state board of elections determined that the referendum didn’t meet the threshold.

Protect Marriage Illinois sued, arguing that state law is “unconstitutionally burdensome” on Illinois citizens and prohibits them from petitioning the government. For instance, according to Protect Marriage Illinois, one woman’s signature was ruled invalid because she signed “Dee” when her name in fact is “Deidra.”

But the circuit court panel disagreed.

“Illinois is the only state that permits ballots to include advisory questions submitted by citizens (as distinct from officials) and no one supposes (unless perhaps it is these plaintiffs) that the other 49 states are violating the Constitution,” Circuit Judge Richard Allen Posner, a nominee of President Reagan, wrote for the court. “If a state can thus ban advisory questions from the ballot altogether, it can impose requirements designed to avoid ballot clutter, provided the requirements are not jiggered in a way that discriminates against particular advocates or viewpoints.”

The non-binding advisory question would have asked the Illinois legislature to submit a proposed constitutional amendment to the voters in the next election stating that marriage is only “between a man and a woman.” Unlike some other states, Illinois law does not allow constitutional amendments to originate directly with citizens.

“Obviously we are disappointed by [the] decision,” Illinois Family Institute Executive Director David Smith said in a statement. “… We are evaluating our legal options, and will announce them in the next few days. Regardless of our course of action, we are buoyed by the tremendous support that this campaign to protect marriage has received in Illinois. Over 420,000 citizens from every part of the state signed the Protect Marriage Illinois petition, and we turned in almost 350,000 signatures to the board of elections. It is not a matter of if but when those citizens will have the opportunity to cast a ballot to protect marriage.”
For more information about the national debate over “gay marriage,” visit http://www.bpnews.net/samesexmarriage

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