According to news reports, the lawsuit alleged that the summary, which reads "Eliminates the Right of Same-Sex Couples to Marry," "was argumentative, misleading and prejudicial," because eliminates is "a negative, active transitive word - grammar that had rarely, if ever, been used in a state ballot title." The plaintiffs preferred the old title, "Limit on Marriage," which was changed by Attorney General Jerry Brown after the Supreme Court held in May that same-sex couples could marry.
California Superior Court Judge Timothy M. Frawley's dismissed the challenge, saying that "[p]etitioner has failed to explain why the term 'eliminates' is inherently argumentative, while the term 'limit' is not."
One can argue about the inherent argumentativity, misleadingness or prejudiciality of the choices of language. But in at least one important sense, the anti-gay crowd is right that eliminate is more negative than limit. That's because eliminate, unlike limit, is downward-entailing in its complement, which, as shown in Bill Ladusaw's brilliant dissertation, correlates with the licensing of negative polarity items.
Here's an explanation for the uninitiated. It was noticed that certain words, like ever, are licensed in negative contexts, in the sense that they can exist in negative contexts but not the corresponding affirmative contexts. For example:
Nobody ever told me there'd be days like these
*Somebody ever told me there'd be days like these
Yochanan didn't ever tell me there'd be days like these
*Yochanan ever told me there'd be days like these
(Following convention, the asterisk indicates ungrammaticality.)
This led words like ever to become known as "negative polarity items" or NPIs for short. But many other words license NPIs without being logical negators.
Yeshaayahu denied that he ever smoked pot.
*Yeshaayahu affirmed that he ever smoked pot.
Few people ever walked on the moon.
*Many people ever walked on the moon.
Shmuel supported gay marriage before he ever found out his son was gay.
*Shmuel supported gay marriage after he ever found out his son was gay.
Everyone who's ever lived in California knows it's a crazy place.
*Someone who's ever lived in California knows it's a crazy place.
Some of these licensing words seem negative and can be rephrased using negatives, or else broken down into component parts that include negatives. Deny can be recast as say that not, and few can be restated as not many. But this is not true of all NPI licensers. Before is not the same as not after (because neither covers contemporaneous events) and every doesn't mean not some. Moreover, in neither of these pairs is one member of the pair more intuitively negative than the other.
What Ladusaw showed was that the concept of downward entailingness was a better predictor of the ability to license NPIs than the concept of negativity. A context is downward-entailing if and only if in that context, replacing a set with its proper subset preserves the truth of the sentence. For example:
Yisroel didn't eat fruit -->
Yisroel didn't eat bananas
Bananas is a proper subset of fruit. These sentences exemplify the fact that the scope of negation is a downward-entailing context. If the first sentence is true, the second one is necessarily true as well. The following sentences show that this property is shared by deny, few, before and the first argument of every.
These entailments do not hold of the counterparts of these words.
Dafna denied eating fruit -->
Dafna denied eating bananas
(on one reading of the sentence)
Few people ate fruit -->
Few people ate bananas
Ofer says a bracha before eating fruit -->
Ofer says a bracha before eating bananas
Everyone who eats fruit is gay -->
Everyone who eats bananas is gay
John ate fruit --/-->Now, back to the proposition. Eliminate is a downward-entailing word, and licenses ever.
John ate bananas
Dafna affirmed eating fruit --/-->
Dafna affirmed eating bananas
(on any reading of the sentence)
Many people ate fruit --/-->
Many people ate bananas
Ofer says a bracha after eating fruit --/-->
Ofer says a bracha after eating bananas
Someone who eats fruit is gay --/-->
Someone who eats bananas is gay
Ryvka eliminated fruit from her diet so as not to appear to be homosexual -->Limited is not downward entailing, and doesn't license ever.
Ryvka eliminated bananas from her diet so as not to appear to be homosexual
Ryvka eliminated the situations in which she ever had to feel guilty.
Ora limited the fruit in her diet so as to appear less homosexual --/-->These judgments are somewhat subtle, but I think they're correct; or if not correct, at least onto something.
Ora limited the bananas in her diet so as to appear less homosexual
*Ora limited the situations in which she ever had to feel guilty.