States take on social questions

Gay marriage is key ballot measure

By David Crary
Associated Press / November 5, 2008
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Voters in Colorado and South Dakota rejected ballot measures yesterday that could have led to sweeping bans on abortion, and Washington became only the second state - after Oregon - to offer terminally ill people the option of physician-assisted suicide.

In California, exit polls suggested a close race on a high-profile measure that would ban gay marriage, the first time such a vote has taken place in a state where such unions are legal. Ballot counting continued into the night. Three other states appeared headed toward enacting measures that would curtail the rights of same-sex couples.

But, for the abortion rights movement, it was a day of relief and celebration. The Colorado measure, which was defeated soundly, would have defined life as beginning at conception. Its opponents said it could have led to outlawing some types of birth control as well as abortion.

The South Dakota measure would have banned abortions except in cases of rape, incest, and serious health threats to mothers. A tougher version, without the rape and incest exceptions, lost in 2006. Antiabortion activists thought the modifications would win approval, but the margin of defeat was similar, about 55 percent to 45 percent.

California voters approved a measure requiring that calves raised for veal, along with egg-laying hens and pregnant pigs, be confined in ways that allow them freedom of movement.

Michigan joined 12 other states in allowing use of marijuana for medical purposes. The measure will allow severely ill patients to register with the state and legally buy, grow, and use small amounts of marijuana to relieve pain, nausea, appetite loss, and other symptoms.

In all, 153 measures were at stake nationwide. The most momentous was the proposed constitutional amendment in California to limit marriage to heterosexual couples. Similar measures had prevailed in 27 states before the elections, but none were in California's situation - with thousands of gay couples already married following a state Supreme Court ruling. The opposing sides together raised about $70 million, much of it from out of state, to wage their campaigns. The outcome could have an impact on prospects for spreading same-sex marriage to the 47 states that do not allow it.

A crucial question in California was how churchgoing black and Hispanic voters would vote. According to exit polls, blacks were far more likely than whites or Hispanics to support the ban. Age also was a key factor. The exit polls suggested that voters under 30 opposed the ban by a 2-to-1 ratio, while most voters 60 and older supported the ban. Democratic presidential winner Barack Obama opposed the California amendment, and he endorses the concept of broader rights for same-sex couples.

Arizona approved a gay marriage ban yesterday, while a similar measure appeared headed for passage in Florida. Gay-rights forces also suffered a loss in Arkansas, where voters approved a measure banning unmarried couples from serving as adoptive or foster parents. Supporters made clear that gays and lesbians were their main target.

In other ballot measures:

  • Missouri voters approved a measure requiring the state's three investor-owned power utilities to get 15 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2021.

  • Nebraska voters approved a ban on race- and gender-based affirmative action, similar to measures previously approved in California, Michigan, and Washington.

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