Judge Grants Harris a Delay in Processing Anti-Gay Ballot Initiative

Attorney General Kamala Harris has won an extension of the state's deadline to process an initiative that would impose the death penalty for gay sex.  (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

California Attorney General Kamala Harris on Thursday received an extension of next week's deadline to process a proposed ballot initiative that advocates killing anyone who engages in gay sex.

Harris asked a state court in late March for permission to reject the measure, calling it obviously unconstitutional and "utterly reprehensible." But since a judge has not yet acted on the unusual request, she said in legal papers filed Wednesday that she would be legally bound to clear the initiative's author on Monday to start pursuing the 366,000 signatures needed to put the law before voters in November 2016.

Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Steven Rodda agreed on Thursday to give the attorney general until June 25 to prepare an official title and ballot summary for the initiative, which would amend the California Penal Code to make sex with a person of the same gender an offense punishable by "bullets to the head or by any other convenient method."

The attorney general plans to move to have her original request to quash the measure granted by default. Her office said in its appeal for more time that the Orange County lawyer who paid $200 to submit the initiative, Matthew McLaughlin, has not attempted to defend his so-called Sodomite Suppression Act in court.

The filing included a copy of a letter, signed by a Matt McLaughlin and mailed from the same Huntington Beach address used for the initiative, saying that McLaughlin did not intend to respond to the case.

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"Costly litigation is not something that you may require me to incur prior to exercising my rights under both the California Constitution and the initiative statute," said the letter dated April 2.

McLaughlin did not respond to a telephone call Thursday seeking to verify he was the letter's author.

Gathering the hundreds of thousands of signatures needed to qualify an initiative in California is expensive and time-consuming. Of the dozens submitted to the attorney general each year, few make it on the ballot. But McLaughlin's proposal, which even die-hard conservative groups in California have repudiated, has renewed calls for reforming how easy it is for residents with an ax to grind to gain clearance to circulate their proposals at shopping centers and in other public places while seeking signatures.

[The San Francisco Chronicle quotes McLaughlin's April 2 letter as threatening legal action to get his initiative on the ballot if state officials try to block it:

“Take notice that if your office and the California secretary of state refuse to clear the Sodomite Suppression Act for signature circulation, I may demand as remedy that it be placed on the election ballot directly." Secretary of State Alex Padilla’s office said it was unaware of any mechanism to place a measure on the ballot other than the standard procedures of gathering at least 365,000 signatures of registered voters or, for certain types of laws, winning legislative approval. The only other route would be a lawsuit.]

The agitation aroused by McLaughlin's initiative has reached as far as his law school alma mater, Virginia's George Mason University School of Law. After being inundated with calls and emails demanding that the school renounce both the measure and its 1998 graduate, Dean Daniel Polsby wrote a letter to the campus community saying it was neither the school's place nor inclination to do so.

"Mr. McLaughlin's filing suggests views that undeniably are out of keeping with the normal civilities of life. But so far as appears, they are also lawful and constitutionally protected expressions," Polsby said.