Additional referenda planned for November, even where legal bans are already in place
On August 3, voters in Missouri approved a state constitutional amendment stating that “to be valid and recognized in this state, a marriage shall exist only between a man and a woman.” The amendment garnered the support of 71 percent of voters.
Missouri voters felt the need to adopt the amendment despite the fact that the state already has a law, as do 38 other states, banning same-sex couples from marrying.
Voters in up to 13 states may vote this year on state constitutional amendments banning gay marriage and, in some cases, domestic partner benefits, but Missouri’s was the first referendum since the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled last November that it was a violation of that state’s Constitution to deny marriage licenses to gay couples. That decision mobilized conservatives throughout the country to solidify state laws and constitutional provisions preventing judges and lawmakers from interpreting a right to marry for gay couples in state constitutions.
Alaska, Nebraska, and Nevada already have constitutional provisions against same-sex marriage. In 1997, in the face of a state Supreme Court ruling that suggested that same-sex marriage might be in the offing in Hawaii, that state enacted a constitutional amendment ceding to the Legislature the power to regulate marriage, which it then promptly limited to heterosexual couples.
“While we are saddened by the vote, we are not surprised,” said Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. “Fundamental human rights should never be up for a popular vote.”
Foreman congratulated the Constitutional Defense League and its Missouri campaign manager, Doug Gray, for mounting the biggest fight for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights in that state’s history, enlisting the support of newspapers and hundreds of clergy.
“It is important for all gay Americans,” Foreman said, “especially our heroes in Missouri and all of our people who are now fighting similar ugly measures across the country, to recognize that a primary goal of the right in launching these attacks is to demoralize, drain and fracture our communities.”
“We stepped up to the challenge and organized ourselves,” Gray said after the results came in. “We moved this debate forward.”
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that the anti-amendment side raised almost $400,000, mostly in St. Louis and Kansas City, and that supporters of the ban came up with only $100,000, “relying instead on dozens of church congregations to carry the message.”
On September 18, Louisiana voters will take up a state marriage amendment. Then, in November, on the same day as the presidential election, similar measures are on the ballot in Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, Montana, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Utah. Michigan, North Dakota, and Ohio, may also place the matter on ballots, pending challenges to various petitions and wrangling over the wording of respective amendments.
The pending Ohio amendment denies status to relationships of “unmarried individuals that intends to approximate the design, qualities, and significance or effect of marriage,” language that is being criticized as too vague even by state Rep. Bill Seitz, a Republican who wrote the state’s Defense of Marriage Act. The measure could be interpreted to bar state institutions, such as the university system, from providing certain rights like domestic partner benefits. Alan Melamed, leader of Ohioans Protecting the Constitution, a group supporting same-sex marriage, called the language “the most restrictive in the country.”
This week, the North Dakota Family Alliance filed almost twice the number of signatures needed to get an anti-gay marriage state constitutional ban on the ballot there. The proposal would also bar the Legislature from “crafting any marriage-like legal arrangements for gay couples,” the Associated Press reported.
In Washington, D.C., the Federal Marriage Amendment (FMA) did not survive a procedural vote in the Senate, but considering a separate effort, the House of Representatives last month approved the Marriage Protection Act (MPA), which would strip the federal courts of the right to rule on the constitutionality of certain provisions of the federal Defense of Marriage Act. Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, predicted that the amendment proposal would only advance after “an adverse court decision” that forces one state to recognize same-sex marriages legally performed elsewhere, and his office said that Senate effort would focus on the amendment before turning to the MPA.