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CA attorney general vows to halt ballot measure that would legalize killing gay people

  1. California Attorney General Kamala Harris on Wednesday announced she will go to court to try to halt a ballot initiative that would legalize the execution of gay and lesbian people in the state.
  2. Matt McLaughlin, a lawyer in Orange County, filed the ballot initiative last month. The measure still needs more than 365,000 valid petition signatures to make it to the ballot.
  3. The measure isn't expected to survive, since it's clearly unconstitutional, but it's drawing attention to California's exploitable ballot initiative process.
  4. Harris's legal challenge may fail, since the attorney general is typically required by law to grant ballot measures a title and summary. But the state's Supreme Court is likely to step in and stop the measure, particularly if the proposal gets enough signatures to qualify for the ballot.

The measure would authorize the killing of gay and lesbian Californians

LGBT flag

Under the measure, the LGBT flag could be seen as illegal advocacy. (Shutterstock)

Orange County attorney Matt McLaughlin paid the $200 filing fee on February 26 to submit the Sodomite Suppression Act to voters on November 2016.

The proposal has no chance of becoming law, since it's unconstitutional and would most likely never get approval from California voters, but it's drawn national attention because its provisions are so abhorrent and extreme.

As the San Francisco Chronicle and Sacramento Bee reported, the proposal would require the execution of anyone who touches a person of the same sex for sexual gratification by "bullets to the head or by any other convenient method." It declares that it's "better that offenders should die rather than that all of us should be killed by God's just wrath." Private citizens would be allowed to step in to act as executioners if the state didn't within a year, meaning that the murder of gay and lesbian people would effectively be legalized.

The measure would also make it illegal, with the threat of a $1 million fine, up to 10 years in prison, and permanent expulsion from the state, to advocate for gay rights to an audience that includes minors. And it would require posting the measure's language prominently in public school classrooms.

The initiative specifies that its constitutionality could only be decided by a California Supreme Court that doesn't include LGBT justices and their supporters, but that portion would only be true if the measure passed.

The proposal very likely won't pass, but it's drawing attention to California's initiative process

Kamala Harris

California Attorney General Kamala Harris might have to grant the initiative a title and summary. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images News)

In California, ballot initiative sponsors pay a $200 filing fee for their measure, the attorney general gives it a title and summary, supporters collect more than 365,000 signatures, and, if all that's successful, California votes on it.

California Attorney General Kamala Harris, who's considering a Senate run in 2016, is going to court to try to halt the ballot measure. "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 public safety, it is patently unconstitutional, utterly reprehensible, and has no place in a civil society."

But legal experts told the San Francisco Chronicle and Sacramento Bee that the attorney general is likely required by law to provide a title and summary for proposed ballot measures once someone pays the $200 filing fee. Harris acknowledged she will have to grant a title and summary if her legal challenge fails.

This setup, legal experts said, prevents elected attorneys general from interfering with citizen-proposed ballot initiatives they disagree with politically. Instead, more politically impartial judges are able to decide the constitutionality of proposed measures.

The California Supreme Court could, and is expected to, step in to block the proposal if it gets too far in the process. The measure violates constitutional due process protections for people who commit private, consensual sexual activity, and it tries to unconstitutionally limit people's free-speech rights with multiple provisions that would try to stop certain forms of LGBT advocacy.

In the meantime, the measure has drawn criticism from advocates who say the filing fee for ballot initiatives, which hasn't been increased since 1943, is too low. "Increasing the fee, even to $500 or $1,000, would help ensure that those who put initiatives into circulation are sincere in their efforts," Kim Alexander, president and founder of the California Voter Foundation, told the Sacramento Bee.

The newspaper reported a sharp rise in proposed ballot initiatives in recent years: from 47 in the 1960s to nearly 650 in the 2000s.

The measure could get its sponsor disbarred

LGBT flags San Francisco City Hall

LGBT flags in front of San Francisco's City Hall. (Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images)

State legislators are trying to get the California Bar to look into McLaughlin's involvement with the initiative and consider disbarring him.

Lawyers in the state are supposed to demonstrate "good moral character," including respect for the rights of others, California State Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens, Los Angeles County) told the San Francisco Chronicle.

This isn't the first time McLaughlin has proposed a ballot initiative. The Chronicle reported that he suggested adding the King James Bible as a literature textbook in California public schools in 2004 because of its "rich use of the English language." His latest proposal, needless to say, ventures into far uglier territory.

Watch: 'How a bill really becomes a law'

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