Big Setback for Gay Marriage

Voters may have put the Democrats back in control of the House, but that doesn't mean they're embracing liberal values.

Amendments to ban gay marriage passed easily in seven of the eight states where they were on the ballot. The states include Colorado, Idaho, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin.

In Wisconsin, voters elected a Democratic senator, governor and five congressmen but also supported the ban on gay marriage by 59 percent to 41 percent. Voters in Colorado also rejected a measure that would grant domestic partnership rights to same-sex couples.

And in the one exception, Arizona, voters rejected the amendment -- and affirmed their support of gay marriage -- by the slimmest of margins, 51 percent to 49 percent. In Virginia and Tennessee, where the Senate races went down to the wire, voters overwhelmingly supported the ban on gay marriage.

Similar amendments have passed in 20 other states. Massachusetts is currently the only state that allows gay marriage. New Jersey's Supreme Court recently ruled that same-sex couples should be granted the same rights as married couples but left it to the state legislature to define such unions. Vermont and Connecticut allow civil unions.

Republicans had hoped that the gay marriage issue would fire up their base and get them to the polls, as it did in the 2004 presidential election. Instead, conservative voters disenchanted with the party due to corruption scandals ended up pulling the lever for Democratic candidates but staying true to their fundamentalist values by rejecting gay marriage.

Split Vote

For example, about a third of Wisconsin voters who supported the gay marriage ban still re-elected Democratic governor Jim Doyle, according to a preliminary exit poll conducted for The Associated Press by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International.

Some election observers said that the measure didn't have the same impact at motivating conservative voters to vote Republican as in previous elections.

"While seven of eight gay marriage measures passed, these campaigns appeared far less energizing to conservative candidates and their supporters," the liberal Ballot Initiative Strategy Center said in a statement.

"The marriage amendment mobilizes more conservatives than liberals," said conservative columnist and ABC contributor George Will. But he emphasized that these ballot referendums can sometimes "backfire."

Will pointed to Missouri's ballot initiative on stem-cell research. Republican strategists thought it would drive their base to the polls, but the amendment may have had the opposite effect and attracted more Democrats. And Will said it remained to be seen just how big a role the marriage amendment would play in the still-too-close-to-call Senate race in Virginia.

In Virginia, the marriage amendment drew support from Republicans, the deeply religious, and those who approve of the job the president is doing, according to exit poll information reported by The Associated Press.

Dividing Along Party -- and Other -- Lines

While Democrats and those with the highest levels of education rejected it, college graduates who consider themselves independents were split in their support. African- American voters, usually considered part of the Democratic base, supported the ban on same sex marriage.

In the past, gay rights groups have tried to enlist the support of the African-American community, often comparing its battle for same sex marriage to the civil rights movement. But many in the African-American community are churchgoers and apparently resent the comparison; they oppose same sex marriage for religious reasons.

Democratic strategist Donna Brazile said African Americans "vote their pocketbook" rather than let "emotionally charged" issues such as gay marriage influence their vote.

The passage of the measures was a disappointment to gay rights advocates, who considered Wisconsin their best chance of rejecting the ban. But many of the voters in the state favored the amendment for faith-based reasons.

"I have no problem with people having equal rights under the law," Earl Vorpagel, a pastor at Calvary Lutheran Church in Ashwaubenon, Wis., told The Associated Press. "I just don't want it under the term 'marriage.'"