March 26, 2015 at 6:00 pm EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
California AG attempts to block ‘kill the gays’ ballot measure

Kamala Harris, California, gay news, Washington Blade

California Attorney General Kamala Harris (Photo public domain)

California Attorney General Kamala Harris on Wednesday requested a court order to allow her to refuse to clear the way for the circulation of petitions to place on the ballot a proposed state law that would make gay sex a crime punishable by death.

Harris was reacting to a ballot initiative called the Sodomite Suppression Act proposed by Matthew McLaughlin, an Orange County attorney who on Feb. 26 submitted a $200 check to Harris’ office to cover the fee for setting in motion a ballot measure under California’s initiative and referendum law.

“The abominable crime against nature known as buggery, called also sodomy, is a monstrous evil that Almighty God, given of freedom and liberty, commands us to suppress on pain of our utter destruction even as he overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah,” McLaughlin states in his proposed law.

“Seeing that it is better that offenders should die rather than that all of us should be killed by God’s just wrath against us for the folly of tolerating wickedness in our midst, the people of California wisely command, in the fear of God, that any person who willingly touches another person of the same gender for purposes of sexual gratification be put to death by bullets to the head or by any other convenient method,” the proposed law states.

Although Harris and legal experts say the proposed initiative would violate the California and U.S. Constitutions, the state’s controversial initiative and referendum law appears to require that Harris provide an official title and summary of the initiative to anyone submitting the proper paper work and filing fee, as McLaughlin apparently has done.

That would clear the way for McLaughlin to begin circulating petitions to place the initiative on the ballot in 2016.

Political observers say it’s highly unlikely that McLaughlin would be able to obtain the required 365,880 signatures of registered voters within a period of 180 days to enable the initiative to be placed on the ballot.

But Harris and members of the lesbian and gay caucus of the California Legislature said circulating petitions for a law calling for executing gays would be equivalent to asking voters to approve a horrendous hate crime.

“As Attorney General of California, it is my sworn duty to uphold the California and United States Constitutions and to protect the rights of all Californians,” Harris said in a statement. “This proposal not only threatens the public safety, it is patently unconstitutional, utterly reprehensible, and has no place in a civil society,” she said.

“Today, I am filing an action for declaratory relief with the [State Superior] Court seeking judicial authorization for relief from the duty to prepare and issue the title and summary for the ‘Sodomite Suppression Act,’” Harris says in her statement.

“If the court does not grant this relief, my office will be forced to issue a title and summary for a proposal that seeks to legalize discrimination and vigilantism,” she said.

Harris was referring to another provision in McLaughlin’s proposed initiative that gives citizens the authority to enforce the proposed law, including its provision calling for executing gays, and seek reimbursement from the state if state officials fail to carry out the law’s requirements.

“[S]hould the state persist in inaction over one year after due notice, the general public is empowered and deputized to execute all the provisions hereunder extra-judicially, immune from any charge and indemnified by the state against any and all liability,” the proposed law states.

The Los Angeles Times reports that two members of the State Assembly, expressing outrage over the anti-gay initiative, introduced a bill to raise the fee for filing a ballot measure from $200 to $8,000.

“We live in California, the cradle of direct democracy, but we also need a threshold for reasonableness,” the newspaper quoted state Assemblyman Evan Low, who co-authored the bill, as saying.

There were no media reports of addressing the issue of proposed ballot measures that would infringe upon individual rights or create discrimination in the manor that D.C. addressed that question in the 1970s. At the request of D.C. gay activist Frank Kameny and other activists, the D.C. City Council amended the city’s Home Rule Charter to prohibit a ballot initiative or referendum that would take away rights protected by the city’s Human Rights Act, including LGBT rights.

Years later, in 2009, marriage equality advocates invoked that law to block an attempt to place a D.C. bill legalizing same-sex marriage on the ballot in a voter referendum.

Kurt Oneto, a Sacramento attorney who specializes in the state’s initiative law and procedures for carrying it out, told the Los Angeles Times that Harris doesn’t have the legal authority to block McLaughlin’s proposed ballot measure.

“The state gets serious initiatives that are submitted and we get silly ones, and every now and then we get ugly ones like this,” the newspaper quoted him as saying. “I would submit this is probably the ugliest one I remember.”

According to the newspaper, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Caucus of the California Legislature filed a complaint earlier this month against McLaughlin before the California Bar requesting that his license to practice law be revoked because of his proposed “hate” initiative.

As of Monday, an online petition on change.org calling for McLaughlin’s disbarment had more than 17,000 signatures, the Los Angeles Times reports.

The newspaper also reports that an official with the Los Angeles LGBT Center said that anyone who signs petitions circulated by McLaughlin to get his initiative on the ballot that “calls for the murder of gay people” should expect that “their names are going to be made public.”

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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