Wednesday, November 03, 2004

11 States Approve Gay 'Marriage' Bans

11 states approve ban on gay unions
Activists promise court challenges
By Dana Wilkie
November 3, 2004

WASHINGTON – In nearly a dozen states yesterday, voters sent the loud, clear message that they think marriage should be reserved for unions between a man and a woman.

Reacting to recent court rulings allowing same-sex marriages, voters from Oregon to Georgia passed state constitutional amendments banning such unions – often by sweeping margins.

"The people are responding to the courts, which are increasingly trying to change the definition of marriage," said Carrie Gordon Earll, a spokeswoman for Focus on the Family, a conservative Christian group. "Marriage is not some kind of social play dough that the courts can reconstruct."

Gay rights activists vowed to challenge some of the amendments in court.

"Basic human rights should not be put up for a popular vote," said Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. "We're confident that the Bill of Rights is going to secure the freedom to marry for gay Americans."

The measures were on ballots in 11 states – Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon and Utah – and they were placed before voters at a volatile time.

This year, Massachusetts' highest court ordered the state to grant marriage licenses to gays. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom thumbed his nose at a voter-passed state law banning same-sex marriage, Proposition 22, and allowed thousands of gays and lesbians marry in his city. The state Supreme Court later invalidated more than 4,000 of these marriage licenses.

A 1996 federal law already defines marriage as between a man and a woman. And all the states with ballot measures, except Oregon, have laws outlawing same-sex marriage, as do 27 other states.

But President Bush and others say a federal constitutional amendment is needed to prevent what they call "activist" judges from overturning the 1996 law. After such an amendment failed this year in the House and Senate, the state ballot measures were seen as a backlash against congressional inaction.

The measures galvanized liberals and gay rights activists, as well as social conservatives and evangelical Christians.

The Human Rights Campaign, one of the nation's largest gay rights groups, spent nearly $7 million to fight the measures. In Ohio, where voters banned same-sex marriage by a ratio of 3-to-2, the Christian Coalition had mailed out 2 million voter guides on the issue.

Ohio's measure is considered the broadest because it bars any legal status that "intends to approximate marriage."

Gay activists' best hope was Oregon, where voters have a history of defeating measures perceived as anti-gay. But even Oregon voters endorsed the ban on same-sex marriage.

"It feels like a death," said Kelly Burke, 35, of the amendment's passage in Oregon. She is a stay-at-home mother who began receiving health care coverage for the first time after she wed electrician Dolores Doyle, herpartner of 15 years, in Portland in March.

The measures won easily in the 10 other states – by ratios as high as 3-to-1 in Kentucky and Georgia, and 6-to-1 in Mississippi.

Polls indicate Americans oppose same-sex marriage by 2-to-1. But they are far less enthusiastic about amending the federal Constitution.

Gay rights advocates claim the GOP used the measures to rally social conservatives and boost turnout for Bush. Four of the measures were in presidential battleground states.

"(Republicans) will pay a long-term price for this kind of intolerance," Foreman said. "Young people and swing voters are going to reject the Republican Party."

Said Gordon Earll, of Focus on the Family: "These measures would have been on ballots regardless of who was running for president."