IT'S NO SURPRISE that proposals to bar gay marriage passed in all 11 states where such wrongheaded measures were on the ballot. But that doesn't make the results any less disappointing to those who believe, as we do, that gay individuals, couples and families are entitled to the same legal rights and protections as other Americans.
We understand that many Americans, including, for example, both President Bush and Sen. John F. Kerry, oppose gay marriage. We hope that attitude will change over time, but in the meantime there's little reason to enshrine unequal treatment in state constitutions. Except for Oregon, all the states holding referendums Tuesday already have laws defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman. Courts in Massachusetts and Vermont had ruled, on the basis of their own state con- stitutions, that gay couples are entitled to marriages or civil unions, but that's a flimsy basis for rushing to amend state constitutions elsewhere.
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In three of the states that voted Tuesday -- Mississippi, Montana and Oregon -- the measures spoke only to marriage. But eight others went further, prohibiting the states from recognizing even civil unions for gay couples. Mr. Bush, despite his push for a federal constitutional amendment to prohibit gay marriage, has indicated his discomfort with going that far. In an interview with Charles Gibson of ABC News last month, Mr. Bush distinguished marriage from "legal arrange- ments that enable people to have rights." Why should any state deny gay people basic rights -- such as deciding on medical treatment or inheriting property -- accorded to other couples in similarly committed relationships?
Tuesday's votes may embolden proponents of the most unwise gay marriage amendment of all: to the federal Constitution. That proposal failed by gratifying margins in both the Senate and House earlier this year, but advocates will renew the push, with the aid of strengthened GOP majorities. The new Senate lineup will include Jim DeMint (S.C.), a House Republican who said during the campaign that gays and lesbians shouldn't be allowed to teach in public schools; Mel R. Martinez (R-Fla.), who described a primary opponent as "the new darling of the homosexual extremists" for backing a hate-crime law; and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), who has described the "gay agenda" as "the greatest threat to our freedom that we face today."
The outlook isn't entirely bleak. The general discussion of gay rights during the presidential election was mostly intelligent and civil. Voters in Cincinnati repealed a law that banned the city from enacting laws to protect gays against discrimination. And despite the dispiriting results on the ballot initiatives, exit polls showed that six of 10 voters support either gay marriage or civil unions.