Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Is Marriage Equality Headed to Louisiana?

Louisiana faces a challenge to its constitutional amendment that bars same-sex couples from marrying within its borders. The amendment, which lawmakers and voters overwhelmingly approved in 2004, was reinstated by the state's Supreme Court in 2005.

Kristoffer Bonilla, 33, and John Thomas Wray, 18, a New Orleans gay couple, is suing over being denied a marriage license in Louisiana, and their suit asks a federal judge to strike down the amendment.

"By failing to articulate a legitimate, compelling and secular interest for the restriction on marriage, the state has necessarily established a wholly religious civil institution," the suit says.

Claiming the state's amendment violates their First Amendment rights "by curtailing the right to marry based upon a religious interpretation of the nature and purpose of marriage itself," the men filed the lawsuit against several state and local officials on April 2, the same day they said they were denied a marriage license.

Defendant Health and Hospitals Secretary Alan Levine and advocates on both sides of the suit believe this is the first case of its kind in Louisiana.

"This has the potential to be a pretty important case," said Levine, who received a copy of the lawsuit on Monday. But he says the law and state amendment is solid. "There's no argument. The law is crystal clear in Louisiana," he added.

Randy Evans, an attorney for Forum for Equality, which had initially challenged the amendment in 2004, said the case decided by the state Supreme Court in 2005 didn't delve into any federal constitutional issues.

"The earlier case really has no controlling effect on this lawsuit," he said.

Alliance Defense Fund attorney Mike Johnson, who argued for the amendment when the Supreme Court heard the case, called the new lawsuit frivolous.

"Our marriage amendment is comprehensive in its scope and definitive in its meaning, and there's no question that our state Supreme Court has upheld it," he said.

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