Calif. amend. suit claims 'prejudicial' ballot

SAN FRANCISCO (BP)--Supporters of a proposed constitutional marriage amendment in California filed suit against the state attorney general July 29, charging that a new ballot title and summary is inflammatory and could lead voters to oppose the measure.

The title and summary -- the language voters see on the ballot when entering the voting booth -- was changed recently by California Attorney General Jerry Brown. A Democrat, Brown changed the title to read, "Eliminates Right of Same-Sex Couples to Marry" and the first sentence of the summary to read, "Changes California Constitution to eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry." The new ballot summary also says the amendment's fiscal impact would result in "potential revenue loss, mainly sales taxes, totaling in the several tens of millions of dollars" to state and local governments over the next few years.

Prior to the California Supreme Court's May 15 decision that legalized "gay marriage," the ballot title read, "Limit on Marriage," and the first sentence of the summary read, "Amends the California Constitution to provide that only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California."

The suit was filed in a California lower court with a request for an expedited hearing. Supporters are facing a tight deadline: The ballot must be submitted to the printer by Aug. 11, according to The San Francisco Chronicle. The Alliance Defense Fund filed the suit on behalf of supporters of the proposal, which is known as Proposition 8.

"We're very concerned, because many voters sometimes view the ballot title and summary as the only information that they read before they vote," Proposition 8 spokeswoman Jennifer Kerns told Baptist Press. "We feel that this will prejudice the voters against this measure. The attorney general's job is to let the people decide what their opinion of the measure is. It's not the attorney general's job to tell people what his opinion of the measure is."

Meanwhile, opponents of Proposition 8 also have filed a lawsuit, seeking to change wording in the California ballot pamphlet, a government-printed pamphlet mailed to every registered voter that provides arguments by supporters and opponents of each initiative. Opponents of Proposition 8 want to see eliminated an assertion by supporters that "gay marriage" would impact what is taught in kindergarten, The Chronicle reported. The pamphlet has yet to be printed, although the tentative language of it is posted online.

"In health education classes, state law requires teachers to instruct children as young as kindergarteners about marriage," the language submitted by Proposition 8 supporters states. "If the gay marriage ruling is not overturned, TEACHERS WILL BE REQUIRED to teach young children there is no difference between gay marriage and traditional marriage. We should not accept a court decision that results in public schools teaching our kids that gay marriage is okay."

Such an argument is viewed as common sense by many conservatives, but nevertheless hit a nerve among Proposition 8 opponents. In their written rebuttal -- each side gets a chance to rebut the other side's arguments in the pamphlet -- Proposition 8 opponents wrote, "NO CHILD CAN BE FORCED, AGAINST THE WILL OF THEIR PARENTS, TO BE TAUGHT ANYTHING about health and families issues. CALIFORNIA LAW PROHIBITS IT. And NOTHING IN STATE LAW REQUIRES THE MENTION OF MARRIAGE IN KINDERGARTEN!"

But even if Proposition 8 opponents succeed in changing the ballot pamphlet, supporters still will make the argument as part of their public campaign. The pro-Proposition 8 website (at ProtectMarriage.com) currently states that "public schools are already required to teach the role of marriage in society as part of the curriculum" and that if Proposition 8 isn't passed, "schools will now be required to teach students that gay marriage is the same as traditional marriage, starting with kindergarteners."

Massachusetts, where "gay marriage" also is legal, has experienced several controversies over what is taught in schools. In 2005, kindergarteners at one Lexington, Mass., elementary school were given a "diversity bag" that included the book "Who's in a Family?" which has drawings of homosexual parents. The same school was involved in a similar controversy months later when second-graders were read "King & King," a story about a prince who searches for a wife, only to choose another prince as his "husband."

Messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in June passed a resolution urging Southern Baptists in California to work and vote for the amendment there and for all Southern Baptists and other Christians to pray for its passage. The resolution passed nearly unanimously.

For information about the amendment, or to donate to the amendment campaign, visit ProtectMarriage.com (out-of-state donations are legal).


Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.

Download Story