It's not often that a proposed constitutional amendment stirs more voter interest than a hotly contested race for sheriff. But the so-called Defense of Marriage Act is expected to drive voters to the polls in droves.
Greg Buisson, media consultant for judicial candidate Paulette Irons, says a campaign poll showed only 17 percent of registered voters in Orleans Parish were inclined to vote for criminal sheriff and two judgeships. But when told the marriage amendment would also be on the ballot, interest in voting soared to 60 percent. "It was unbelievable," Buisson says.
Amendment One, authored by state Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Metairie, is what Scalise calls a "pre-emptive strike" against the kind of legislation that cleared the way for gay weddings or civil unions in states like Massachusetts. Opposition groups like Forum for Equality and Equality Louisiana argue the amendment will enshrine discrimination against gays in the state constitution.
Louisiana law currently limits marriage to the union of one man and one woman, and bans same-sex marriages. However, state law is silent on civil unions, domestic partnerships and other living arrangements, according to the nonpartisan Public Affairs Research Council (PAR), which takes no position on the issue. (To see PAR's full report, visit www.par.org.)
If the proposal fails, existing state law would continue to prohibit the marriage of same-sex couples. If it passes, the Louisiana Supreme Court will likely hear a post-election challenge. Opponents earlier told the High Court that the proposal violates a state constitutional ban prohibiting the presentation of more than one issue in a single amendment. The amendment requires voters to decide with one vote whether to deny gay couples both the right to marry and the right to enter into civil unions and domestic partnerships, opponents told the court. In a Sept. 2 decision, the High Court found no reversible errors, and put Amendment One on Saturday's ballot.
However, Chief Justice Pascal Calogero said then that the dual effect of the proposal violating the constitution was "the most serious argument" raised by opponents: "There are a significant number of voters who would support permitting gay couples to form civil unions, even though they would then deny these couples the right to marry," Calogero wrote, citing a recent national poll. "The court may yet have to address this constitutional question in a post-election challenge." Scalise, meanwhile, plans to marry his opposite-sex fiancee in New Orleans early next year. "I'm a traditionalist," he says. "Marriage is the union of a man and a woman. It's a unique relationship."