BATON ROUGE, La. – Louisiana voters decided Saturday whether to approve a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, one of up to 12 such measures on the ballot around the country this year.
It was expected to pass by an overwhelming margin, though court challenges are likely. The civil rights group Forum for Equality (search) has promised legal action.
"The Forum for Equality membership has already authorized a lawsuit to be filed in the event that this were to pass," said attorney Randy Evans. A first round of court fights was turned away by state courts that said an election cannot be challenged until the vote is taken.
Another possible legal complication: delayed delivery on Saturday of voting machines to precincts in New Orleans (search), which has a politically strong gay population.
State director of elections Frances Sims (search) said at least 59 precincts did not have voting machines when polls opened because officials with New Orleans' clerk of court's office failed to meet drivers who tried to deliver the machines earlier that morning. The problem was solved by midday.
Julius Green, 58, said he went to his polling place in New Orleans' Bywater neighborhood about 10 a.m. and found no voting machines — just a crowd.
"I am angry. I'm very angry," Green said. "This is ridiculous. It makes people feel that their vote don't count."
The election problems could lead to challenges of election results. "I'm sure there will be lawsuits filed," Secretary of State Fox McKeithen said.
Louisiana already has a law stating that marriage can be only between a man and woman, but supporters of the amendment want to protect that law in the Constitution. The amendment also would prohibit state officials and courts from recognizing out-of-state marriages and civil unions between homosexuals.
Gay rights advocates say the amendment would deprive unmarried couples — gay or straight — of the right to enter into certain contracts and own property together.
Supporters of the ban disagree, including LSU law school professor Katherine Spaht, who helped write the amendment. "It doesn't touch private contracts," she said.
Still, advocates on both sides agreed it will be up to the courts to decide exactly what the amendment does and does not do.
First, however, courts may have to step in and decide if the amendment was legally adopted. In challenges that went to the state Supreme Court, Forum for Equality said the Legislature made several mistakes in putting the measure together, chief among them adding the ban on civil unions into the amendment. Amendments are supposed to have a single purpose, opponents said.
That challenge was turned away when the courts ruled that it was premature and could only be taken up after the vote was taken.
Similar amendments to ban same-sex marriage are on ballots in Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon and Utah. Petitions in Ohio are still being verified.