Voters in 11 states approved constitutional amendments Tuesday to ban same-sex marriage. The amendments won easy approval, as expected, in Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Ohio, Oregon, and Utah. Exit polls showed the ban winning by 3-to-1 in Georgia and 3-to-2 in Ohio, while the Kentucky amendment had 65% support with most votes counted. The Ohio measure, considered the broadest of the 11 because it bans any legal status that "intends to approximate marriage," gathered equal support from men and women, blacks and whites.
In Georgia, Ohio, and Mississippi, gay rights activists suggested they might mount court challenges of the newly approved amendments. But supporters of the bans were jubilant. "I've said all along that this crossed party lines, color lines, and socio-economic lines," said Sadie Fields of the Georgia Christian Coalition. "The people in this state realized that we're talking about the future of our country here."
Conservatives hoped the amendments would prevail in all 11 states, sending a signal that the American public disapproves of same-sex marriage. National and local gay rights groups campaigned vigorously in Oregon, where polls showed a close race, to try to prevent a sweep, but the initial results were dismaying. "That certainly is disappointing news that many Kentucky voters would think it's appropriate to write discrimination into our constitution," said Beth Wilson of the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky. "People get harmed when their relationships are not respected, and this means that relationships won't be respected."
None of the 11 states allow gay marriage now, though officials in Portland, Ore., married more than 3,000 same-sex couples last year before a judge halted the practice. Supporters of the amendments contend the measures are needed as an extra guard against state court rulings like the one in Massachusetts a year ago that legalized same-sex marriage there.
The proposed amendments in Mississippi, Montana, and Oregon referred only to marriage, specifying that it should be limited to unions of one man and one woman. The measures in Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Utah called for a ban on civil unions as well.
In most cases, those additional provisions generated extra controversy. Some prominent Republican politicians and GOP-leaning newspapers, while stressing that they opposed gay marriage, spoke out against the amendments on grounds that the measures might prevent the extension of even very limited partnership rights to unmarried gay and straight couples.
In five of the states, legislators placed the proposed amendments on the ballots, while in the six others--Arkansas, Michigan, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, and Oregon--the measures were advanced by conservative, church-backed citizens' groups that collected signatures on petitions.
Already this year, voters in Missouri and Louisiana have weighed in on the issue, with gay-marriage-ban amendments winning more than 70% of the vote in both states. Louisiana's amendment was later struck down in state court on the grounds that it improperly dealt with more than one subject by banning not only same-sex marriage but also any legal recognition of common-law relationships, domestic partnerships, and civil unions.
The court challenge in Georgia involves a similar argument. Regardless of Tuesday's results, the gay marriage debate will rage on. Conservatives say they will continue to press for a federal constitutional amendment banning gay marriage on the premise that even toughly worded bans in state constitutions could be overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Gay rights activists, meanwhile, will continue pressing marriage-rights lawsuits in states like Oregon, California, and New Jersey, where they believe the high courts might eventually rule in their favor.