JEFFERSON CITY — In a victory for Democrats, Missourians will vote in August — not in November — on a proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.
In a 6-1 decision Thursday, the Missouri Supreme Court said Republican Secretary of State Matt Blunt should place the issue on the August ballot but did not directly order him to do so. A Blunt spokesman said he would follow the court’s wishes.
“The secretary of state cannot exercise the duties of his office in a manner to frustrate the governor’s constitutional authority to select the election date,” the court wrote in an unsigned opinion.
Republican lawmakers and Blunt said they preferred the November ballot because more people would be likely to vote on the issue than during the August primaries.
A group supporting the ballot measure quickly vowed to rally its troops.
“It will be harder to get people out and pass the amendment as a result of (Democrats’) maneuvering, but we are undaunted and we are going to do everything possible to pass this amendment in August,” said Vicky Hartzler, a spokeswoman for the Coalition to Protect Marriage in Missouri and a former Republican lawmaker.
Democratic Gov. Bob Holden called for an
August vote after the legislature proposed an amendment that would limit to marriage to a union of a man and a woman.
But Blunt contended he could not follow the governor’s wishes because Republican legislative leaders did not send him the officially passed version of the amendment until after a May 25 deadline to provide notice to local election officials of items to appear on the August ballot.
State Attorney General Jay Nixon, a Democrat, sued Blunt, seeking a court order directing Blunt to place the question on the August ballot. Before Thursday, both a circuit judge and an appeals court panel had ruled for Blunt.
The Supreme Court majority said those prior rulings were correct because Blunt had not yet received the official, signed version of the amendment.
But the official amendment was delivered by lawmakers to Blunt on May 28, making that argument moot, the Supreme Court said. The judges rejected Blunt’s argument that the law requiring 10 weeks notification of ballot issues still prevented the amendment from going to an August vote.
In Thursday’s decision, the court noted that state law allows courts to order changes to ballots until six weeks before an election.
In a dissenting opinion, Judge Stephen Limbaugh Jr. said the 10-week notification law should prevent the Aug. 3 election. He said the court majority effectively rendered the law “unenforceable, and I suppose unconstitutional,” when it comes to the governor’s power to call special elections. Limbaugh said Holden could have called for a special election anytime between early August and November and still fulfilled the 10-week notice.
Although abiding by the court’s decision, Blunt’s spokesman complained that it “undermines the process for placing issues before Missouri voters.”
But Nixon and Holden issued statements praising the court for upholding the constitutional process for setting elections.
The gay marriage amendment “raises fundamental social questions on which the people have a right to be heard, soon,” Nixon said.
The Constitution Defense League, formed to opposed the ballot measure, also had advocated an August vote. But “whether it’s on in August or it’s on in November, it’s still discrimination and it’s still wrong,” said Doug Gray, the group’s campaign manager.