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Court to hear arguments in marriage amendment today

LITTLE ROCK – The state Supreme Court is to hear arguments today on whether to keep the proposed constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage on the Nov. 2 general election ballot.

Oral arguments are set for 9 a.m.

The drive to get the measure on the ballot was in response to a ruling earlier this year by the Massachusetts Supreme Court, which said there is nothing in that state’s constitution that prohibits civil unions between same-sex couples.

The Arkansas Marriage Amendment Committee gathered more than 200,000 signatures by the July 2 deadline to get the proposal on the ballot. Just 80,570 were needed.

Several other states will consider similar proposals on their general election ballots, and it has also been an issue in the presidential race this year.

President Bush has called for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

Blake Rutherford, who represents the American Civil Liberties Union in Arkansas, said Wednesday he plans to tell the state Supreme Court that “the popular name and the ballot title are fatally misleading and vague.”

The ACLU in August asked the state Supreme Court to remove the proposal from the ballot. The challenge was filed on behalf of a heterosexual Little Rock couple who have gay relatives, and a gay Little Rock man.

“Our position has been from the beginning of this case that the popular name and ballot title have failed to convey a clear and concise meaning of the language they used,” Rutherford said.

Specifically, the ACLU said in briefs filed earlier this week that the measure uses the term marital status to mean marriage, when most people interpret that to mean whether or not a person is married.

Martha Adcock, who will be arguing before the state Supreme Court on behalf of the Arkansas Marriage Amendment Committee, declined comment Wednesday.

Jerry Cox, spokesman for the committee, said that the ACLU challenge is baseless.

“Our position all along has been that the ACLU lawsuit has no merit and that their lawsuit is more about muddying the water about the true nature of the amendment than anything else,” Cox said.

In briefs filed recently, the committee said the proposal is “an important issue of public policy” and said opponents don’t want the public to vote on the measure.

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