JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- A judge ruled Friday that Missouri's secretary of state does not have to set an August election for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage -- a victory for Republicans hoping to decide the issue during the November presidential election.
The Missouri Supreme Court denied a direct appeal, declaring the case first must pass through an appellate court. Attorney General Jay Nixon then quickly appealed to the Western District state Court of Appeals, which set a hearing for Monday.
Nixon, a Democrat, had sued Republican Secretary Matt Blunt on Thursday, seeking to force him to begin the process of setting an Aug. 3 election in response to a proclamation by Gov. Bob Holden.
But Cole County Circuit Judge Richard Callahan ruled Blunt does not have to follow Holden's wishes because the secretary of state's office has not yet received the official version of the amendment, which was passed last week by the legislature.
Blunt and Holden both are running for governor. Some political observers believe that a large turnout of conservative voters drawn to the November polls by the gay marriage ban could provide Republicans the winning margin in the swing state of Missouri.
Blunt said he prefers the November ballot because more voters would be likely to participate. But Blunt acknowledged it also could give his candidacy a boost.
Holden did not immediately comment on Friday's ruling. During the legislative session, Holden said he did not think the amendment was necessary because the state already has a law against gay marriage.
Holden's spokeswoman has said the governor called an August election to get the issue settled as soon as possible.
Proposed constitutional amendments automatically are to appear on the November ballot unless the governor calls a special election earlier.
At issue in the court case is whether a proposed constitutional amendment is subject to the same requirements imposed on bills passed by the legislature.
The state constitution requires bills to be signed by the presiding officers of the House and Senate before they are sent to the governor to become law. Proposed constitutional amendments bypass the governor and go straight to the secretary of state.
But Blunt's office contends the legislative signature requirement still applies, and he says a state law requires the office to first receive the legislation before beginning the paperwork process to place an amendment on the ballot.
Republican legislative leaders do not intend to sign the amendment until May 28 -- three days after the deadline for the secretary of state to notify local election authorities of items to appear on the August ballot.
Nixon and Holden contend the governor had the authority to call a special election after the Legislature's votes on the measure were recorded in the House and Senate journals -- without needing to wait for lawmakers to sign the amendment.
They also claim the requirement for Blunt's office to receive the amendment could have been fulfilled by providing him a copy of it -- not the original version from the Legislature.
The proposed amendment would ask voters to approve or reject one sentence: "That to be valid and recognized in this state, a marriage shall exist only between a man and a woman."