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Gays Targeted in a California Initiative
Los Angeles CA LGBT Law Attorney | Santa Monica Domestic

LOS ANGELES — Even in a state known for its far-reaching and sometimes outlandish voter initiatives, the one proposed by a Huntington Beach lawyer seems stunning: the “Sodomite Suppression Act, ” mandating, among other things, that any person who has sexual relations with someone of the same gender be “put to death by bullets to the head.”

It appears highly unlikely that the lawyer, Matthew G. McLaughlin, can collect the 365, 880 signatures of registered voters — 5 percent of the total who voted for governor in the last election — needed to put the initiative on the ballot. Even if he does, it seems even more unlikely that it would ever pass in this state. And even if it did, opponents said, it would almost certainly be thrown out by a judge.

But this episode has thrown a new and unwanted light on California’s historically permissive voter initiative system, created in the early 1900s at the height of the Progressive Era and today the system under which much of California law is enacted. It is voters, and not the Legislature, who have put into place major laws dealing with everything from property taxes to crime to Proposition 8, the 2008 initiative that banned same-sex marriage. That law was later overturned in the courts.

“This just shows how nuts and wrongheaded we are about direct democracy, ” said Joe Mathews, a critic of this state’s governance system. “This points out a shameful, problematic thing. You can put anything on the ballot.”


The initiative by Mr. McLaughlin, who did not respond to a request for comment, is now before the state attorney general, Kamala D. Harris, who under state law has to write a title and description of it before Mr. McLaughlin can began gathering signatures. California state law is very direct, and analysts said Ms. Harris appeared to have little choice but to process the initiative.


But Ms. Harris is running for Senate and thus under the spotlight; Mr. Mathews and some other opponents of the measure said they hoped that she would use this opportunity to block it and force Mr. McLaughlin to court — and thus perhaps invite a court to put some restrictions on what is appropriate to appear in the ballot box.

“It presents an interesting dilemma for the attorney general, ” said Carol Dahmen, a Democratic consultant in Sacramento. “She may be and probably is required to provide a title and summary. But is she? She could make a real statement here and say, ‘We are not going to provide title and summary, ’ and let him sue her. She has a building full of lawyers.”

A decision by Ms. Harris is expected shortly, aides said. “We are still reviewing our legal options, ” said David Beltran, a spokesman for the attorney general.

In a sign of frustration with the system, opponents are turning their fire on Mr. McLaughlin; Ms. Dahmen said she had collected 25, 000 signatures on a petition that she will submit to the state bar asking that Mr. McLaughlin be disbarred. The gay and lesbian caucus of the Legislature has made a similar call.

And in Sacramento, there is talk again of looking for ways to tighten the initiative process — be it from increasing the nomination application fee of $200, to perhaps increasing the number of signatures needed to get the initiative on the ballot.

“It appears that this ill-conceived and reprehensible measure can advance under California’s ballot initiative process, ” said State Senator Ricardo Lara, a Democrat and is a leader of the gay and lesbian caucus. “While California’s initiative process is an important vehicle for the public to participate in the political process, there should be a mechanism to stop an initiative that is clearly unconstitutional from moving forward.”

Source: www.nytimes.com

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