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National NOW Times >> Winter 2007  >> Article

NOW Opposes Anti-Marriage Ballot Measures

By Olga Vives, Executive Vice President

NOW intern, Dianne Munevar, rallies for lesbian rights.

NOW staff photo by Lisa Bennett

NOW intern, Dianne Munevar, rallies for lesbian rights.

The 2006 mid-term elections were a mixed bag in the areas of women's rights, economic issues and ending marriage discrimination in the United States. While limits on reproductive rights were defeated in Oregon, California and South Dakota, and minimum wage increases were approved by large margins in six states, ballot measures amending state constitutions to recognize marriage only between a man and a woman were approved in seven of the eight states where the bans were presented to voters. With the new bans, we now have 28 states where voters have approved adding marriage discrimination to their state constitutions since 1998.

We see some light at the end of this tunnel, however, that indicates a shift in public support on the issue of same-sex marriage. For example, in 2004 the anti-marriage vote in the states averaged 70 percent approval; at that time there were only two states, Oregon and Michigan, where opposition to the bans topped 40 percent. This year, in five of the eight states—Arizona, Virginia, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Colorado—opposition exceeded 40 percent. In South Dakota, for example, the anti-marriage measure passed by a slim margin of four percent (52-48).

And, of course, we should celebrate the outright defeat of the ballot measure in Arizona, where voters rejected the ban, with 49 percent voting yes and 51 percent voting no. The voters of Arizona heard the message that supporting the same-sex marriage ban would not only harm same-sex couples in the state but also would outlaw domestic partner benefits for both heterosexual and same-sex couples.

It is clear to NOW, as evidenced by the reduced victory margins of this year's bans, that voters are shifting attitudes toward support of this important issue. More and more, the drive to achieve marriage equality is gaining ground, as fair-minded people realize that writing discrimination into state constitutions is wrong, and that denying the benefits and the recognition of marriage to same-sex couples hurts families.

The radical right, encouraged by the divisive strategies of Karl Rove, played a major role in strategically placing the ballot measures to encourage their voters to turn out on Election Day. There is no evidence whatsoever that this strategy resulted in an increased voter turnout of their voters in these states. In fact, voters rejected two of the most anti-gay candidates in Congress: Pennsylvania's Sen. Rick Santorum and Rep. John Hostettler of Indiana. And voters elected many pro-gay, pro-marriage equality candidates at all levels, including the governors of Massachusetts, Deval Patrick, and New York, Eliot Spitzer.

According to Evan Wolfson, head of the Freedom to Marry Coalition, the U.S. is "at a civil rights moment." The right to marry is a basic human right, one that embodies the acceptance and protection of lesbians and gay men. The move toward marriage equality is a civil rights struggle where there will be periods of wins and losses. As more and more committed couples and families ask for the right to marry, as we "humanize" the issue, people in the U.S. begin to understand that the option to marry, with all of the benefits of civil marriage, is a right that is long overdue.

A decision by the New Jersey Supreme Court opened the door to marriage rights for same-sex couples in their state; Massachusetts already bestows that right to their residents; Rhode Island recognizes the right of resident couples to marry in Massachusetts; Arizona rejected their hateful same-sex marriage ban; and supporters of marriage equality are growing in numbers. Equality for all is the ultimate goal, and the National Organization for Women is not resting until equal rights are afforded to all.

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