Gay Marriage on the Ballot in 4 States
By Christine Vestal, Staff Writer
(Updated 11:21 a.m. EDT, Oct. 22, 2008)
In the wake of Connecticut's Oct. 10 high court decision legalizing same-sex marriage, voters in three states will decide in November whether to roll back or prevent a similar ruling by defining marriage in their state constitutions as a union between a man and a woman. In Connecticut, a ballot proposal to rewrite the state charter has become a platform to reverse the high court's ruling.
On Election Day, Arizona voters will be asked for the second time in two years whether they want to prohibit gay marriage, and Floridians will decide whether to ban not just same-sex marriage but also unions such as domestic partnerships that are "treated as marriage or the substantial equivalent." So far, supporters of the proposed marriage amendments in the two states outnumber opponents.
In California, meanwhile, a majority of voters say they plan to vote against their ballot measure that would override the state Supreme Court's historic decision in May legalizing gay marriage, according to a Sept. 18 poll by California survey research firm, The Field Poll. If approved, the measure would rescind gay couples' newly won right to marry and prevent any future liberalization of traditional marriage laws without voter approval. (An Oct. 17 poll by Survey USA, which a 4 percent margin of error, found 48 percent who favored the ban and 45 percent who opposed it. But the research firm cautioned that the three point difference is "not necessarily statistically significant.")
In Connecticut, a recent poll indicates a majority of residents say they favor the state Supreme Court's decision.
Campaigns for and against the measures have been hard-fought and well-funded in all four states, but California, traditionally a bellwether for social change and the most populous state, is considered by advocates as the prize.
The lead group supporting the California proposal - Protect Marriage.com- has raised $25.4 million, while opponents, led by Equality California, have raised only $15.8 million, according to a report filed with the state Oct. 6. In the last weeks of the campaign, money is reportedly pouring in on both sides to pay for a last-minute media blitz.
For gay rights advocates, approval of the measure would be a serious setback - marking the first time a state would recognize marriage equality for same-sex couples and then remove those rights, said Chris Edelson, state legislative director for the Human Rights Campaign . "But if it's defeated, it will be an incredibly energizing victory."
In 2000, 61 percent of Californian's voted in favor of a measure, Proposition 22 , that created a statute limiting marriage to a man and a woman. The state Supreme Court overturned that law in May this year. If voters in November reject a new ban on gay marriage — one that would cement the restriction by making it part of the state constitution — it would mark a major shift in California politics.
Gay marriage foes caution that such a loss in California could open the floodgates for liberalized marriage laws in the other 49 states.
Also at stake in California, is the legal status of more than 11,000 marriages - many from out-of-state. Although Attorney General Jerry Brown has said the passage of Proposition 8 would not invalidate those marriage licenses, gay rights advocates say they are not sure his opinion would withstand a court challenge.
Less than a year after Massachusetts' high court became the first to rule that same-sex marriage was a guaranteed civil right on Nov. 13, 2003, voters in 13 states - Missouri, Louisiana, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon and Utah - rushed to the polls to enact constitutional bans that would prevent similar judgments.
By the end of the 2006 election cycle, ten more states - Alabama, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, South Dakota, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin - had approved similar bans, while voters in Arizona became the first to reject the proposal. Four states already had constitutional gay marriage bans before 2003, bringing the current total to 27 states with constitutional prohibitions against same-sex marriage.
Like Florida's broad proposed amendment, 17 other states have constitutional bans that reach beyond marriage to civil unions and domestic partnerships.
Forty-two states - including California and Connecticut - enacted statutes banning gay marriage, but all are subject to judicial interpretation. This year, California and Connecticut courts overturned their state bans, reducing the number to 40.
In Arizona, voters rejected a proposed marriage amendment two years ago, in part because senior citizens feared it would affect their own domestic partnerships. This time, the proposal, called Proposition 102, does not extend to so-called marriage equivalents. A September poll by Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism indicates 49 percent of voters say they approve of the amendment and 40 percent plan to vote against it.
Florida voters also are split over the marriage proposal with 55 percent favoring Amendment 2 and 41 percent opposed, according to a September poll by Quinnipiac University. Although supporters have a healthy 14-point lead, Florida, unlike most other states, requires at least 60 percent voter approval to pass a ballot measure.
Connecticut's Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell has said she disagrees with the high court's ruling legalizing marriage, but says she's "firmly convinced that attempts to reverse this decision - either legislatively or by amending the state Constitution - will not meet with success." She does, however, support the proposal to hold a constitutional convention, which would be the first in four decades.
This month, 53 percent of Connecticut residents said they support the state Supreme Court's gay marriage ruling, while 42 percent said they did not, according to a poll by the Center for Survey Research and Analysis at the University of Connecticut.