Measures banning same-sex marriage passed by wide margins in all 11 states that had them on Tuesday's ballot, in what conservative groups described yesterday as a sweeping popular rejection of a Massachusetts court's decision to allow gay marriage in that state.
Focus on the Family, radio evangelist James Dobson's Colorado-based group, and other conservative Christian organizations called for a renewed push for a federal constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage, which failed in both houses of Congress this year.
Rejoicing over the 11-for-11 sweep, some social conservatives contended that a desire to defend the traditional definition of marriage drew millions of evangelical Christians to the polls and provided President Bush's margin of victory. They pointed to exit polls showing that 22 percent of voters named "moral values" as their top issue, surpassing the 20 percent who cited the economy, 19 percent who chose terrorism and 15 percent who selected the Iraq war.
"The marriage issue was the great iceberg in this election," said Robert Knight, director of the Culture and Family Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington. "Most people saw only the tip and didn't realize the great mass was affecting races all over the country, right up to the presidential contest."
Gay rights groups disputed such claims, saying there was no statistical evidence that ballot initiatives against same-sex marriage hurt Sen. John F. Kerry or moved substantial numbers of socially conservative black churchgoers onto the Republican side of the ledger.
"The anti-gay marriage amendments were on the ballot in three battleground states -- Oregon, Michigan and Ohio -- and Kerry did as well or better than [former vice president Al] Gore did in all three of those states in 2000," said Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.
Both sides agreed that the voting represented a reaction to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court's decision a year ago. Tongue-in-cheek, Knight said Bush should send a bouquet to Margaret H. Marshall, the chief justice of the Massachusetts court, because she "did more than any other single person to assure his victory."
Foreman said the outcome showed it is "profoundly wrong to put basic human rights up for a popular vote." More than 200 years after the drafting of the U.S. Constitution, he said, "I don't think we could win the freedoms of assembly, speech, religion or the press in most states at the ballot box -- let alone desegregated schools, the freedom to marry people of another race, or access to contraception."
Earlier this year, Missouri and Louisiana adopted state constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage. On Tuesday, voters approved similar amendments in Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, Montana, Mississippi, Ohio, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon and Utah by majorities ranging from 57 percent in Oregon to 86 percent in Mississippi. A proposal for a constitutional ban in Massachusetts is pending before its legislature and could go to voters in 2006.
The wording of the amendments varies widely. In four states -- Montana, Mississippi, Missouri and Oregon -- the language applies only to same-sex marriage. In the rest of the states, it also could bar civil unions or domestic partnership arrangements that confer health insurance, hospital visitation rights and other benefits on same-sex couples.
Gay rights groups predicted that the measures would soon spawn legal challenges over their validity and meaning. They said the wording in several states, such as Michigan and Ohio, is ambiguous.
A state judge has already thrown out Louisiana's ballot initiative on the grounds that the referendum combined two separate questions, on marriage and civil unions. Louisiana, like many states, requires ballot initiatives to pose only a single, clear question. The judge's ruling has been appealed to the Louisiana Supreme Court.
As soon as Georgia's referendum vote is certified, the gay rights group Lambda Legal plans to file a lawsuit saying the measure violates Georgia's "single subject" rule. Moreover, the wording voters saw on their ballots Tuesday is different from the amendment that would go into the constitution, according to Lambda Legal attorney Jack Senterfitt.
He called the ballot "highly misleading," because it asked whether Georgia "shall recognize as marriage only the union of man and woman," which would not appear to ban civil unions. The actual amendment, as drafted by the state legislature, says: "No union of persons of the same sex shall be recognized by this state as entitled to the benefits of marriage."