VOLUME 3, ISSUE 344 | November 4 – November11, 2004
Anti-Marriage Amendments Prevail
From Oregon to Oklahoma, 11 states pass initiatives to limit marriage
Voters in 11 states gave overwhelming approval to ballot initiatives that banned gay marriage and, in eight of those 11, barred state recognition of any form of relationship other than one man and one woman who are legally married.
“We knew going into this that we faced an uphill struggle,” said Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF), on a November 3 conference call with reporters. “What it means for us going forward is this is more of the same. The gay community has gone through many fights, we have suffered many defeats, and we have made progress.”
The initiatives, which either amended state constitutions or enacted new laws, passed easily on November 2. In Mississippi, where the ban passed by the widest margin, 86 percent of voters approved the measure. In Oregon, where gay activists believed they had the best chance of winning, 57 percent of voters favored a gay marriage ban.
In the remaining nine states —Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Utah and Montana — anywhere from 59 to 77 percent of the voters approved the marriage bans.
Coupled with the defeat of Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee, and Republican gains in both the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives, queer community leaders found little to take comfort in.
“All in all, it’s a rough day,” said Cheryl Jacques, president of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation’s largest gay lobbying group, on a different November 3 press call. “It’s a setback in our fight for equality.”
Citing 2000 U.S. Census data, Sean Cahill, director of NGLTF’s Policy Institute, said that as many as 2.2 million unmarried gay or straight couples in the 11 states were “likely to lose the right to legal recognition” of their relationships.
These could include any unmarried couple that has a registered civil union or domestic partnership with their state or local government and public employees whose partners are currently receiving health insurance from their employer.
One bright spot was the successful repeal of a 1992 Cincinnati ballot measure that barred that city from enacting laws that ban discrimination based on sexual orientation. Fifty-four percent of voters there approved that measure.
The Cincinnati victory illustrated a point that activists have been making about this year’s ballot initiatives. Cincinnati’s gay community has been preparing for years.
“The community there has been working at this very diligently for over two years,” Foreman said.
It became apparent that the wider community would face the November 2 ballot initiatives in just the past few months. There was little time to prepare for those campaigns and limited resources to wage them.
“The question was called too early,” Jacques said. “There is a lot more education, there is a lot more discussion that needs to take place. We can’t win at the ballot box until we win at the water cooler.”
The conventional wisdom is that the initiatives were used to draw social conservatives to the polls where they were expected to vote for President George W. Bush.
Both Foreman and Jacques said they believed that strategy had been a failure and they were particularly happy that African-American voters did not vote for Bush in greater numbers this year than in 2000.
“That failed,” Jacques said. “We’re pleased to see that the African-American community didn’t take the bait.”
While it was a loss, Oregon showed that it was possible to influence voters on the gay marriage issue, according to Foreman.
The Oregon group that fought the initiative there spent $2.8 million, with just under $800,000 of that cash coming from NGLTF, while supporters spent $2.3 million. Both sides had volunteers going door-to-door or working in churches. The 14-point spread demonstrated the effectiveness of that work.
“We actually showed that we moved the electorate,” Foreman said. “If we are able to talk to voters about why marriage matters we are able to move people.”
As they did following the successful votes on gay marriage bans in Louisiana and Missouri earlier this year, activists said the campaigns had other benefits.
The gay organizations in the 11 states identified “tens of thousands of new voters,” “thousands of new donors,” and formed “new alliances” with gay-friendly allies, according to Rea Carey, NGLTF’s deputy executive director. “The gay community really used these campaigns,” Carey said. “Even though these amendments passed, our community will be coming out stronger.”
What the November 2 results, both the ballot initiatives and among congressional elections, mean for the suceesful passage of the Federal Marriage Amendment (FMA) are unclear.
The FMA would restrict marriage to one man and one woman and, opponents say it would allow states and the federal government to ban any legal arrangement other than marriage.
Only three elected officials who opposed that amendment to the U.S. Constitution — two Congressmen and Democrat Tom Daschle, the Senate minority leader — lost their seats, according to Jacques.
A constitutional amendment must be approved by two-thirds of Congress, and then ratified by three-fourths of the states’ legislatures. The amendment was defeated, by wide margins, in the House on September 28 and in the Senate on July 12.
But eight newly-elected Republican senators and representatives ran campaigns that explicitly endorsed the marriage amendment, according to Jacques. Republicans may yet revive the FMA.
“We certainly live under the fear of that,” Jacques said. The ability of gay groups to stop the amendment has been undercut. We need 34 senators to block it.” Jacques then added, “I would continue to be cautiously optimistic that we can block it.”