By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 6, 2008
Led by overwhelming support among black voters, California on Tuesday narrowly approved a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.
The outcome was a crushing blow to gays and lesbians, who less than six months ago won the right to marry each other from the California Supreme Court. The campaign over the ballot measure, known as Proposition 8, was the most expensive social-issue initiative in history, with the two sides spending more than $70 million. With Proposition 8's passage, the 18,000 marriage licenses issued since the court granted same-sex couples the right to be wed -- many to out-of-state couples -- probably will be open to legal challenges.
Arizona and Florida also voted to prevent same-sex marriage, bringing to 30 the number of states that have added such bars to their constitutions.
With more than 96 percent of precincts reporting, the California ban was ahead 52 percent to 48 percent, though gay advocacy groups refused to concede defeat, saying that as many as 3 million provisional and absentee ballots remained to be counted.
"Because Prop 8 involves the sensitive matter of individual rights, we believe it is important to wait until we receive further information about the outcome," Geoff Kors, executive director of Equality California, said in a statement.
An Associated Press analysis of the trends and the locations of the votes still outstanding concluded that the margin of support for the initiative is secure.
Exit polls showed that black voters, who flocked to the polls to cast a ballot for Barack Obama, voted for the ban by an overwhelming margin. Nearly seven out of 10 black voters supported a prohibition of same-sex marriages. Whites split on the measure, while Asians rejected it and Hispanic narrowly approved it.
The black vote, as measured by exit polls, increased from 6 percent in 2004 to 10 percent in this year's election.
Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said that in past votes on same-sex marriage, African Americans have generally voted consistently with whites, so advocates were puzzled about the disparity in the California vote on Tuesday. "We have to do some analysis," she said, but she speculated that there were many new voters who may not have been familiar with ballot initiatives, and that there may have been an influx of more religion-oriented black voters.
Mike Johnson, senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, a Scottsdale, Ariz.-based group that lobbies against same-sex marriage, described the outcome as a victory against activist courts. "The people have effectively overruled the court," he said. "This is not a red state issue or a blue state issue. When a vote on marriage is put to the people, marriage prevails."
Courts in Massachusetts and Connecticut have also granted same-sex couples the right to a state-issued marriage license. The Connecticut ruling took effect last week, and Carey said she took solace in the fact that the margins of victory for same-sex marriage opponents keep narrowing. "We knew it would be close," she said of the California vote.
Arkansas, meanwhile, approved a ban on unmarried couples -- gay or straight -- adopting or providing a foster home for children.
Social conservatives, however, also suffered defeats Tuesday when voters rejected limits on abortion in South Dakota and Colorado.
Colorado voters, by 73 percent to 27 percent, rejected a measure that would have defined human life as beginning at fertilization, raising the possibility that abortion would be made the legal equivalent of murder.
The South Dakota measure would have banned abortion, except in cases of rape, incest or a serious health threat to the woman. It failed 55 percent to 44 percent.
Sarah Stoesz, president of Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, said polls in 2006 showed that a similar antiabortion measure defeated in the state that year would have passed overwhelmingly if it had included exceptions for rape and incest. But she said the organization worked over the past two years to educate voters and to have them "consider the issue in a very intense and personal way."
"People started thinking about what it might mean for a woman or a family to be confronted with a serious decision, and at the end of the day came to conclude this was not the place for government interference," she said. "The implications for our movement nationally are quite profound."
Advocates of marijuana reform scored two victories in Massachusetts and Michigan.
Massachusetts voters decriminalized possession of small amounts of the drug, eliminating criminal penalties for people caught with an ounce or less of marijuana. Michigan joined 12 other states in allowing the use of marijuana by very ill patients to relieve pain, nausea, appetite loss and other symptoms.
Michigan voters, by 53 percent to 47 percent, also approved lifting a 30-year ban on stem cell research that results in the destruction of an embryo. And Washington joined Oregon in voting to allow doctor-assisted suicide of terminally ill patients.
Staff writer Kari Lydersen in Chicago contributed to this report.