In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling overturning the federal ban on same-sex marriage, two groups filed ballot language with the state attorney general's office that would put the issue to a vote in Arkansas.
Arkansans for Equality seeks a 2014 vote to repeal Amendment 83, the state law that bans marriage between persons of the same sex and says such marriages made official in other states will not be recognized here. The Arkansas Initiative for Marriage Equality, a non-partisan group that formed in 2012, would put on the 2016 ballot an amendment to prohibit the state from banning marriage on the basis of sex or sexual preference.
Neither of the groups' proposed ballot language has passed muster with state Attorney General Dustin McDaniel. McDaniel found AFE's language deficient in failing to mention the effect of repeal of Amendment 83 and because it was not impartial, and said that the AIME ballot language on "the right to marry" was ambiguous.
On Monday, the AFE filed amended ballot language with the AG's office. AIME plans to file a new draft next week.
Judd Mann, a high school art teacher and co-chair of the non-partisan AFE with Christina Harrison, said the group has filed for a non-profit status that would allow them to take contributions. To get a ballot spot, AFE will have to get 78,000 names representing voters across the state on their petition. Mann said the cost of training persons to collect names is $250 a head. The group has had "scores of people who have stepped up" to help with the petition drive, he said.
Mann, who said he was raised in a charismatic fundamentalist Christian home, no longer believes that "being homosexual is something that needs to be fixed or healed. ... It's an abomination as much as eating shellfish." He said the group is encouraged that according to a bipartisan poll commissioned by the Human Rights Campaign, 60 percent of Arkansans age 30 and younger believe in marriage equality. "Maybe we'll get lucky," he said, "and it will all be taken care of with one sweeping decision" in federal court.
While focused now on repeal of Amendment 83, the group's mission is to take on discrimination however it occurs.
Arkansas Initiative for Marriage Equality was founded by Trey Weir and Jennifer Pierce, both of whom were members of Occupy Little Rock. They had worked with Regnat Populus, a group that sought campaign finance reform, and so were familiar with the ballot process.
Pierce, a history teacher, acknowledged that "a lot of people have said it's too soon" to ask voters to approve of same-sex marriage. "I don't see it happening anytime soon in the Southern states," she said. But she said the public dialogue that a petition drive will engender will be important, and, as a history teacher, "it's important to stand up and fight for equality."
Both groups have Facebook pages where they publish meeting notices, updates on their work, links to pertinent news articles and wry photographs such as the one from St. Mary Magdalene Episcopal Church: "We truly regret that gay marriage attacks the sanctity of your fourth marriage."
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