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Report: Antigay ballot initiatives can have broader consequences

Report: Antigay ballot initiatives can have broader consequences

This fall, voters in a number of states, including Georgia, Kentucky, Missouri, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Utah, will go to the polls to vote on whether same-sex couples should be denied the right to marry in the states' constitutions. A new report issued by the Institute of Gay and Lesbian Strategic Studies shows that these initiatives may carry significant negative psychological and social consequences for local residents and for the communities where the issue is on the ballot. Research gathered by the institute found that referenda can affect the lives of both gay and straight residents in several ways. "These elections create high levels of psychological and social stress for many LGBT individuals as well as for the children of lesbian and gay families," said Glenda Russell, author of the report and the acting executive director of IGLSS. "Studies have demonstrated that these elections can lead to increased anxiety, depression, alienation, and isolation in LGBT people." Earlier ballot measures on same-sex marriage and other gay-related issues have frequently resulted in divided communities, with hostile rhetoric a mainstay of such campaigns. The political fight often reinvigorates old stereotypes and has led to divisions within families and communities. Lee Badgett, research director of IGLSS, said, "our research findings indicate that states may pay a heavy social price for putting the rights of any group up for a vote." In addition to the states already scheduling votes for the fall, legislators in several others, including Arkansas, Kansas, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, and Oregon, are considering referenda on marriage. "Legislators should look at the big picture. While a referendum sounds democratic, putting marriage rights to a vote runs some big risks," Russell said. "Political science research indicates that voting on rights for minority groups tends to increase prejudices that divide members of the community. These elections also allow majority rule to make decisions that have a significant impact on the day-to-day lives of people who are not the majority." Data for the report, titled "The Dangers of a Same-sex Marriage Referendum for Community and Individual Well-being," was gathered using surveys, interviews, analyses of campaign materials, mental health indices, and other research strategies. The report compiles and analyzes results of approximately 30 studies and accounts of referenda on gay issues in eight states.

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