Missouri will provide the nation's first ballot-box battle on gay marriage since the contentious issue flared up following the court-ordered allowance of same-sex marriages in Massachusetts. Missouri is one of at least seven states this year in which voters will decide on proposed amendments to state constitutions limiting marriage to one man and one woman. But Missourians will be voting in August, while most of the other states will hold their elections in November.
Consequently, supporters and opponents alike are looking to Missouri - a state that generally mirrors the nation demographically - as a test of whether similar amendments might succeed elsewhere. Missouri "is going to be a sort of bellwether of how this is going to play out in November" and also could build momentum for an effort to amend a gay marriage ban into the U.S. Constitution, Kristie Rutherford, director of state affairs at the Washington-based Family Research Council, said Friday. Although many states already have laws against gay marriage, supporters have embarked on a campaign to pass constitutional amendments after the Massachusetts supreme judicial court ruled last November that gay and lesbian couples have a constitutional right to marry. Massachusetts did not have a law, much
less a constitutional amendment, against same-sex marriage.
Because of the process for amending the Massachusetts Constitution, voters there couldn't decide on a gay marriage amendment until November 2006. But constitutions in many other states can be amended more quickly. Along with Missouri, legislators in Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Utah also have passed referendums on amendments banning gay marriage. Louisiana lawmakers have yet to agree on a September or November election, but the other states all plan November votes,
according to the National Conference of State Legislatures and the Family Research
Gay rights activists are bracing to lose those elections, but still are planning aggressive campaigns in hopes of defying expectations. "The opponents of marriage equality have targeted what are generally
seen as more conservative states," said Michael Adams, director of education
and public affairs at the New York-based gay-rights group Lambda Legal. "If we
should win any of those battles, in Missouri or elsewhere, it certainly is a sign
that we're in good shape."
Missouri's August vote came about only after the state Supreme Courton Thursday resolved a political fight between Republicans pushing to get the measure on the November general election ballot and Democrats hoping to avoid that. Political pundits believe a November vote could have benefited President Bush and other Republicans by drawing more conservative voters to the polls. But Republican state senator Sarah Steelman, of Rolla, the sponsor of Missouri's amendment, insisted Friday that her desire for a November election was based not on political advantages, but rather on involving the greatest number of
voters. While perhaps making Missouri a trendsetter, an August election will "decrease the opportunity to educate voters about the legal ramifications" of the amendment, she said.
Just four states already have constitutional amendments banning gay marriage or authorizing the legislature to do so. Voters in Hawaii and Alaska adopted amendments in 1998, Nebraska in 2000, and Nevada in a two-step ratification process that spanned elections in 2000 and 2002.