3 States, Including California, Ban Gay Marriage

 
(Updated 12 p.m. EST, Nov. 7, 2008)

California voters put a stop to same-sex weddings, dashing gay rights advocates' hopes that the most populous state - traditionally a bellwether for liberal social change - would lead the nation toward wider acceptance of single-sex marriages.

Arizona and Florida also voted Nov. 4 to ban gay marriage, bringing to 30 the number of states with prohibitions in their constitutions to block same-sex unions. But California's vote packs bigger repercussions, both for its impact on same-sex couples and on the gay rights movement.

The vote marks the first time marriage rights have been granted and then rescinded, and it calls into question more than 18,000 California marriage licenses - many to out-of-state gay couples - that were issued in the six months since a state high court legalized gay weddings. California Attorney General Jerry Brown (D) has said approval of the ban would not invalidate the licenses, but gay rights activists expect his opinion to be challenged in court.

The gay rights movement gained ground this year when courts in California and Connecticut followed Massachusetts' 2003 precedent and ruled that same-sex couples have a right to marry under their state constitutions. The reversal in California dealt the movement a major emotional and political setback. Equally critical, California's rejection of gay marriage is considered an indicator of voter attitudes in the rest of the country.

With 100 percent of precincts reporting, the ban passed 52.5 percent to 47.5 percent. The issue quickly moved into the courts. Advocates for gay marriage filed three separate lawsuits with the California Supreme Court on Wednesday (Nov. 5), claiming the ballot process cannot be used to make such a sweeping revision to the state constitution. 

Nationwide, gay marriage bans have been approved by voters every time they've been put on the ballot - except for two years ago in Arizona. This year's Arizona proposal was worded less broadly, and voters approved it 56.5 percent to 43.5 percent, according to the latest results. Florida's marriage amendment was approved 62.1 percent to 37.9 percent. Florida's new ban, like those in 17 other states, also prohibits same-sex domestic partnerships and civil unions that are "treated as marriage or the substantial equivalent."

Jordan Lawrence of the Alliance Defense Fund, which opposes gay marriage, said the popularity of ballot measures banning gay marriage is proof of voters' frustration with "judicial activism" that has allowed gays and lesbians to marry since 2004 in Massachusetts and this year in Connecticut and California.

"This is not a dying issue. This is not an issue that had its heyday in the 2004 election and is dwindling," Lawrence said in a telephone interview with Stateline.org .

The gay marriage bans were among the most closely watched of the 153 measures on 36 states' ballots this year, a list that included scores of politically explosive social issues.

Voters in Colorado and South Dakota rejected sweeping bans on abortion that could have tested Roe v. Wade , the landmark 1973 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that provided women seeking abortions with legal protections. A third abortion measure - requiring doctors to notify parents of minors before performing the procedure - failed in California.

Washington became only the second state after Oregon to allow doctor-assisted suicide for terminally ill patients. Michigan lifted a 30-year ban on stem-cell research. Nebraska agreed to ban affirmative action, while Colorado voters became the first in the nation to preserve race and gender-based preferences at the ballot box, The Rocky Mountain News reported on Friday.

But social issues were not only the only measures attracting national attention. Tax and budget proposals also took on greater importance, particularly as dozens of states struggle to balance their budgets amid the faltering U.S. economy.

Major tax initiatives fared poorly. Massachusetts rejected a plan to eliminate the state's income tax, a proposal that could have cut the state's budget by more than 40 percent. North Dakotans declined to cut the state's personal income tax in half and reduce the corporate income tax by 15 percent, moves that would have slashed the state's budget by about 17 percent.

In Oregon, a proposal to allow residents to deduct federal taxes from their state income tax returns failed; the measure would have trimmed the state's budget by about $1 billion. Coloradans refused to create a savings account for public schools that would have used money otherwise returned to residents as rebates under the state's landmark Taxpayer Bill of Rights.

Voters in Massachusetts and Michigan relaxed penalties for the possession and use of marijuana. Massachusetts became the first state to decriminalize the possession of an ounce or less of marijuana via ballot initiative, while Michigan became the 13 th state - and first in the Great Lakes or Midwest - to sign off on use of the drug for medical purposes.

"This is a really momentous time in marijuana policy reform across the country," said Dan Bernath, a spokesman with the Marijuana Policy Project, which supported the two proposals. "I think that it's clear now that the voters are not listening to the fear-mongering and the fiery rhetoric that opponents of sensible marijuana policy reform have been spouting for the past decade or more."

Washington voters easily approved - by a 58.7 percent to 41.3 percent margin - a "death with dignity" law modeled on Oregon's, which took effect in 1997. More than 340 patients have taken lethal prescriptions in the decade since Oregon's law was enacted.

Daniel Smith, a University of Florida political science professor who follows state ballot initiatives, said doctor-assisted suicide is "something that could be coming down the pike in other states" after Washington's approval.

In other states, voters were asked to change election protocols. South Dakota voters rejected a proposal to repeal legislative term limits. Colorado rejected a plan to lower age limits for those serving in the General Assembly. Perhaps most significantly, Californians were considering giving redistricting authority to an independent commission instead of the state Legislature, a proposal that has failed five times before in the Golden State. With 99 percent of precincts reporting, the proposal was ahead by the narrowest of margins, 50.5 percent to 49.5 percent.

In another closely watched measure, California became the latest state to approve a measure requiring more humane conditions for farm animals. The Golden State's proposal requires that pregnant pigs, calves and egg-laying hens have enough room to turn around and "fully extend their limbs" when they are confined. But the proposal would not go into effect until 2015. Similar proposals won approval in Florida in 2002 and Arizona in 2006.

Here is an overview of how voters decided the major ballot measures:

Abortion : Colorado voters rejected a proposal to define a "person" as "any human being from the moment of fertilization," a measure that would have amounted to the nation's strictest ban on abortion. Californians nixed a measure requiring parents to be notified before minors can have abortions. In South Dakota, voters rejected a ban on abortion with exceptions for rape, incest and the mother's health.

Affirmative action : A measure to end race and gender preferences in government hiring and college admissions passed in Nebraska. Colorado became the first state to reject a similar measure, according to The Rocky Mountain News.

Elections : South Dakotans elected to keep legislative term limits, and Coloradans declined to reduce the age threshold to serve in the General Assembly to 21 from 25. Hawaii rejected a proposal to allow residents as young as 25 to run for governor. Meanwhile, proposed constitutional conventions failed in three states: Connecticut, Hawaii and Illinois. As of Thursday (Nov. 6), results still weren't final on a California proposal to allow an independent commission, instead of the state Legislature, to draw legislative districts.

Energy : Missouri voters passed a measure requiring 15 percent of the state's electricity to come from clean energy sources by 2021. But California rejected a plan that would have required all utilities in the state, including government-owned power providers, to generate 20 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2010. Colorado voters rejected a plan to increase taxes on the oil and gas industry and channel more of the revenue to renewable energy programs.

Gambling : Maryland legalized slots, while Arkansas - one of only eight states without a lottery - approved a state-run lottery to fund college scholarships. Colorado expanded the hours and games allowed at casinos, with a portion of the extra money going to financial aid for college students. Ohio, on the other hand, rejected a proposal that would have allowed the state's first casino.

Health care : Montana extended coverage to up to 30,000 more children. As of Thursday (Nov. 6), a plan in Arizona to prohibit the state from mandating coverage was too close to call.

Immigration : Arizonans refused to amend a state law that cracks down on employers who knowingly hire undocumented workers, and English was made the official language in Missouri. But Oregon voters rejected a measure that would have curbed the length of time students with limited English skills can be taught in their native language.

Marijuana : Massachusetts became the first state in the nation to decriminalize the possession of an ounce or less of marijuana through a ballot initiative, while Michigan agreed to allow the medical use of the drug. Californians rejected a sweeping overhaul to drug-sentencing laws that also would have decriminalized the possession of an ounce or less of marijuana.

Same-sex marriage : Arizona, California and Florida each passed constitutional bans against gay marriage; California's vote calls into question 18,000 marriage licenses granted to same-sex couples since they won the right to wed under a court ruling six months ago. Arkansas voters approved a measure allowing only married couples to serve as foster parents.  

Stem-cell research : Michigan voters lifted a 30-year-old ban on scientific research that results in the destruction of an embryo.

Taxes : Massachusetts voters rejected a proposal to eliminate the state income tax, while North Dakota rejected a proposal to cut the personal income tax in half and corporate income taxes by 15 percent. Oregonians decided not to allow federal taxes to be deducted from state income tax returns and Colorado refused changes to its landmark Taxpayers'  Bill of Rights. In Maine, voters repealed a 2008 law that increased taxes on beer, wine and soda.

Veterans : California voters agreed to provide $1 billion to help veterans who have recently returned from Iraq and Afghanistan buy homes. Injured veterans will get a personal property tax break in Oklahoma.

 
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