On the surface, voters' overwhelming approval of a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage in Arkansas appears to have paved the way for the early success of bills hitting social issues in the regular legislative session.
But social conservatives say the election tally may have been more reflective of social consciousness than trailblazer for a new wave of legislative norm-setting.
Last week, the house passed legislation to prohibit any definition of marriage in public school textbooks that is contrary to Amendment 83, passed by voters in November to define marriage in Arkansas as only between a man and a woman. Separate legislation to prohibit unmarried couples from being adoptive and foster parents, except as relatives of the child, also passed the house, along with a bill requiring parental consent before a minor can get an abortion.
None received fewer than 61 votes in the 100-member chamber, a sign following often contentious committee debates that opponents were resigned to the inevitable.
Democratic representative Sam Ledbetter of Little Rock fought for a blanket exception to the bill barring unmarried couples who live together from being adoptive or foster parents, which would have allowed such placements in the best interest of the child. He said he thought of a lot of good arguments against the measure but
ultimately decided none of them would make any difference on the house floor.
Some pointed to the anti-gay marriage amendment as impetus for social issues for the regular legislative session. Others weren't so sure.
"There's not a concerted effort to sit around and think about how we can leverage the success of the gay marriage amendment. It's not that people have sat down and wondered, 'Hey, we got this political capital to leverage in the legislature,'" said Jerry Cox, director of the Christian conservative group
Family Council who also directed the campaign for Amendment 83.
Cox said the direction of the political winds that caused the amendment to breeze through the November election probably was set a little more than a year ago when gay couples began marrying in Massachusetts and elsewhere after the Massachusetts supreme judicial court struck down that state's law banning same-sex marriage. "We're still seeing some reaction to that," he said.
Gov. Mike Huckabee said he saw no real connection. "I think it's just that the makeup of the legislature is generally concerned about issues of family," said Huckabee, a Baptist minister.
The future of the measures in the senate is uncertain.
Cox says the abortion bill could have a good chance since a version died without a vote in the chamber in 2003 after the legislature abruptly ended the regular session without even approving a budget. The bill limiting the definition of marriage in textbooks is another matter. Critics have raised questions about how much it could cost as the state begins to update textbooks in the coming years. Besides, the bill plows new ground, and "anytime you do that, it's tougher," Cox said. (AP)
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