AG certifies proposal for 2016 to legalize gay marriage


LITTLE ROCK — A second gay rights group had its ballot proposal to repeal Arkansas’ constitutional ban on same-sex marriage certified Thursday by Attorney General Dustin McDaniel.

McDaniel approved the popular name and ballot title for the proposed Arkansas Marriage Amendment even though the sponsoring group, Arkansas Initiative for Marriage Equality, intends for the measure to be considered by voters in 2016 — not during the 2014 general election.

An earlier ballot proposal certified by the attorney general would repeal Amendment 83, which defines marriage as only between one man and one woman, banning gay marriage and civil unions in Arkansas. The measure certified Thursday would repeal Amendment 83 and take the added step of legalizing same-sex marriage in the state.

Trey Weir, founder of the Arkansas Initiative for Marriage Equality, said he plans to complete the appropriate paperwork when he files the proposal with the secretary of state’s office to let officials know the objective is to get the measure on the 2016 ballot.

Aaron Sadler, spokesman for the attorney general, said the law is unclear on the issue.

“Typically, petitions would be circulated and submitted to the secretary of state during the election cycle in which the ballot title was certified,” Sadler said. “However, there is no clear law on the matter. The determination as to whether to accept the signatures would be made by the secretary of state at the time they are submitted.”

Alex Reed, spokesman for Secretary of State Mark Martin, said groups can begin gathering signatures for a general election more than two years in the future, but it is unusual. He said there are inherent difficulties in gathering signatures of registered voters that far in advance.

“In most situations, you run the risk of when you turn (the signatures) in they’ve moved, or they’re no longer registered voters,” Reed said.

Arkansas Initiative for Marriage Equality will have until July 2016 to gather the necessary signatures to qualify for the 2016 general election ballot. The exact number of signatures required will not be known until after the 2014 general election since the threshold is 10 percent of the number of voters who cast ballots in the most recent gubernatorial race.

The Arkansas Marriage Amendment would “recognize that a marriage is legally recognized as a union of two people regardless of whether the parties to the marriage are the same sex or different sex.”

Members of the clergy and religious organizations would be allowed to refuse to perform ceremonies or provide facilities under the proposed amendment.

Weir said Thursday he wasn’t sure when his group would begin gathering signatures. He added that they do plan to help Arkansans for Equality collect enough signatures to get its proposed amendment that would repeal Amendment 83 on the 2014 general election ballot. The attorney general certified that proposal in September. The group has until July 7 to gather signatures of at least 78,133 registered voters to qualify for the 2014 general election ballot.

Jerry Cox, president of the Family Council, the organization that led the fight for Amendment 83 in 2004, said Thursday his group intends to campaign against any effort to legalize same-sex marriage in Arkansas.

“This effort to redefine marriage won’t stop with two people of the same sex being able to marry,” he said. “States that have legalized same-sex marriage are already seeing supporters of polygamy demanding marriage as well.”