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Ark. AG rejects proposed language for gay marriage ballot petition

Ark. AG rejects proposed language for gay marriage ballot petition

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Arkansas’ attorney general said Tuesday that a proposed petition that would put a gay-marriage ballot question before voters in 2016 was ambiguous in a number of places and would need to be reworked before its backers can collect signatures.

Attorney General Dustin McDaniel said that when the group Arkansas Initiative for Marriage Equality speaks of the “right to marry,” it is not clear whether it considers that a right to marriage already exists for same-sex couples or whether the passage of the ballot issue would create one.

“This lack of clarity has the potential to confuse and mislead voters,” McDaniel wrote to the group’s co-founder, Jack Weir III.

The proposal says the right to marry shall not be abridged or denied on account of gender and sexual orientation, but would not require churches or religious organizations to perform gay marriages.

The attorney general said the group’s proposal did not completel y address Amendment 83 of the Arkansas constitution, which prohibits same-sex marriage and prevents legislators from recognizing same-sex marriages from other states. He said he could not suggest language until the proposal was refined.

Arkansas voters in 2004 voted 3-1 to prohibit same-sex marriage. Weir, who didn’t know that McDaniel had rejected the proposal until being called by a reporter, said he has worked with previous ballot questions and understood that petitions go through several drafts before having their language approved.

Reworking the petition and working to change attitudes toward gay marriage can occur over the next three years, Weir said.

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“It’s a good time to educate the younger voters – those not 18 now but who will be,” Weir said. “We want to get people mobilized.”

Under Arkansas law, the attorney general reviews petition language and rules on whether it “honestly, intelligibly and fairly” describes what is intended.

On July 12, McDaniel rejected proposed language for a 2014 ballot initiative. He said it was flawed because it could mislead voters into believing it would automatically legalize same-sex unions. McDaniel noted that a state law that bars gay marriages would still be in place even if the group’s amendment was approved.

A number of couples are challenging Arkansas same-sex marriage ban in the courts.

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