California ‘Kill the Gays’ Ballot Proposition Likely to Advance—But Not Far
A California ballot proposition legalizing the murder of LGBT people is likely to advance to the signature-collecting stage, highlighting what critics call serious flaws in the state’s democratic initiative process.
The Sacramento Bee reports Huntington Beach attorney and Christian activist Matt McLaughlin spent $200 in February to propose the Sodomite Suppression Act, a ballot proposition that authorizes the killing of LGBT people by “bullets to the head” or “any other convenient method.”
“The abominable crime against nature known as buggery, called also sodomy, is a monstrous evil that Almighty God, giver of freedom and liberty, commands us to suppress on pain of our utter destruction even as he overthrew Sodom and Gomorrha,” McLaughlin’s official filing states.
“It is better that offenders die rather than that all of us should be killed by God’s just wrath against us for tolerating wickedness in our midst,” the measure states. “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 initiative also bans “sodomites” from holding public office, and institutes a $1 million fine, imprisonment for up to 10 years, and exile from California for distribution, performance or transmission of “sodomistic propaganda,” defined as “anything aimed at creating an interest in or an acceptance of human sexual relations other than between a man and a woman.”
As shockingly impassable and illegal—for starters, California’s death penalty was ruled unconstitutional last year—as McLaughlin’s proposal may be, it is likely to advance to the signature-collecting stage. Attorney General Kamala Harris, a staunch LGBT rights advocate running for the US Senate seat being vacated by Barbara Boxer (D), is legally charged with writing a title and summary for McLaughlin’s abhorrent proposition so it can proceed to the signature-gathering stage because in California, anyone can propose a ballot initiative by filing their proposal and paying $200.
Harris, who as district attorney of San Francisco created a special Hate Crimes Unit targeting crimes against LGBT youth and who convened a national conference to challenge the “gay-transgender panic defense” used by some defendants attempting to justify anti-LGBT hate crimes, will be loth to enable the advancement of McLaughlin’s initiative. But legal experts say she has little choice.
“This one drips of evil, so the instinct is to say ‘Well, there’s got to be a way to avoid wasting everybody’s time,’ ” University of California Davis law professor Vikram Amar told the Bee. “But in the law we often have limitations that are built not for the easy cases but because we are worried about the hard cases.”
Amar said California law “generally favors judges making these decisions about what’s legal (or) not rather than elected political officials like the attorney general.”
“I could see a reason for wanting to kill it right now,” he added. “I don’t want to go to a BART station and have some idiot with a clipboard put this in front of me and say, ‘Hey, do you want to sign this to put it on the ballot?’ But that may be something we have to just deal with.”
Once the initiative is approved by Harris, McLaughlin must collect a quantity of signatures equal to five percent of the number of people who voted in the most recent election for governor for his measure to advance again. If the initiative can gather 365,880 signatures, and the secretary of state validates those signatures, it will appear on the 2016 statewide electoral ballot.
It is highly unlikely that McLaughlin—who in 2004 failed to get an initiative that would have given Bibles to public school students on the ballot—will see his hateful proposition on next year’s ballot. Hiring signature gatherers and advertising the proposal can cost upwards of $10 million, Jennifer Fearing, president of Fearless Advocacy, told the Bee.
“There’s a price that stops crazy,” she said, but added that “it’s important to preserve access to direct democracy even if some jerks can get over the first and lowest hurdle on occasion.”
It is that desire among Californians to encourage participatory democracy that allows propositions like McLaughlin’s to be considered. But there is a growing backlash against the proliferation of initiatives, which run the gamut from serious (ending the death penalty; legalizing marijuana) to ludicrous (spitting California into six separate states), and which cost an increasing amount of taxpayer dollars to process.
One proposal to curb the number of ballot measures involves raising filing fees from $200 to $500 or even $1,000. Kim Alexander, president and founder of the California Voter Foundation, told the Bee that doing so “would help ensure that those who put initiatives into circulation are sincere in their efforts.”
“I don’t think the fee should cover the costs [which run as high as $8,000], but it should provide more of a disincentive for people to submit initiatives for which they have no serious intention of attempting to qualify, which seems to happen a lot if you follow initiatives in circulation that fail.”
Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) vetoed a pair of bills that would have raised the filing fee to $2,000, explaining that “while well-funded special interest groups would have no problem paying the sharply increased fee, it will make it more difficult for citizen groups to qualify an initiative.”
The Bee reports the California legislature’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Caucus has written a letter to the State Bar, requesting an investigation of McLaughlin’s fitness to practice law. A Change.org petition to State Bar President Craig Holden seeking McLaughlin’s disbarment for advocating the legalized murder of LGBT people has gathered nearly 5,000 signatures.
State Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) also wrote to Holden seeking an investigation of McLaughlin’s fitness to practice.
“I support freedom of speech, but calling for state sanctioned execution of a protected class calls into question the proponent’s character and judgment,” Lara wrote.