With all precincts reporting, a constitutional ban on marriage for gay and lesbian couples in Missouri had garnered about 71% of the vote, according to unofficial results for Tuesday's vote. A simple majority is all that is required for the amendment to become law.
Missouri's was the first such ballot-box vote in the nation since Massachusetts began legally recognizing gay marriage in May. National groups on both sides of the debate consider the vote a litmus test for which campaign strategies work and which ones don't as the battle spreads to ballot boxes around the United States. At least nine other states, and perhaps as many as 12, will vote on similar amendments this year. Four states already have anti-marriage amendments. "What happens here in Missouri could have a tremendous impact on the rest of the nation's other elections," said Vicky Hartzler, spokeswoman for the group backing the amendment, the Coalition to Protect Marriage in Missouri.
The amendment prompted national gay rights groups to send more than $100,000 to the Missouri organization fighting the ban, and they expect to spend millions of dollars around the country before the general election in November, when most of the ballot initiatives will be decided. "Missouri is the first one," said Seth Kilbourn, national field director for the gay rights group Human Rights Campaign. "It's really important that the gay and lesbian community and our allies wage as strong a campaign as we can to send a strong message to the other campaigns that are going on out there."
The debate intensified last year after a landmark court decision in Massachusetts cleared the way for same-sex weddings there, prompting several states to push for constitutional amendments that ban gay marriage. Missouri and 38 other states already have laws that define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, but supporters of the amendments fear the laws are susceptible to being tossed out by a court unless written into the state constitution. Louisiana residents are to vote on a marriage amendment September 18. Then Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, Montana, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Utah are to vote on the issue November 2. There also are initiatives pending in Michigan, North Dakota, and Ohio.