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    November 07, 2006

    Election watch: the amendments

    Posted by: Chris

    Midterm elections are usually fairly modest affairs, with only us political junkies glued to the tube Net for the results. Not this time around. So here is the first in a series of posts on what gays and our allies should look for in election results tonight (and tomorrow, and next week, as the ballot-counting continues). I'll also be posting results later tonight and tomorrow, as I learn them.

    The most direct way gay issues are on the ballot is, of course, in the eight states voting whether to amend their state constitutions to block gay couples from marrying and, in some cases, from receiving other forms of legal recognition, including civil unions and domestic partnerships. Twenty states have already passed measures like these, in one form or another, most by a 70 to 30% margin.

    The surprise this time around is that the polls show things very close in Wisconsin, Colorado and maybe even Virginia, and the measure failing in Arizona and South Dakota. Here are the eight states, along with some additional info:

    1.    Wisconsin: The ballot measure here bans gays from marrying or being given "legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage," which would block civil unions and perhaps other forms of legal recognition. Both sides have invested more money here than elsewhere, including a high-profile donation from Sir Elton John. Polls show it will be close, with recent surveys showing a slight lead for those favoring the ban.

    2.    Virginia: The broadest of the proposed bans, the Marshall-Newman Amendment in Virginia blocks marriage and civil  unions for gay couples, as well as preventing state or local governments from recognizing "any union, partnership, or other legal status to which is assigned the rights, benefits, obligations, qualities, or effects of marriage." Opponents of the ban say that blocks even private legal arrangements entered into by same-sex couples and unmarried heterosexual couples; proponents dispute that claim. Most of the state's leading Democrats, including Gov. Tim Kaine, have come out against the amendment as over-broad, even though also oppose gay marriage. The vote could be closer than expected in a red state like Virginia; a Mason-Dixon poll showed the margin favoring the ban tightening from 56-38% in July to 49-45% now.

    3.    Colorado: The recent revelations about evangelist Ted Haggard, who like Focus on the Family's James Dobson is based in Colorado Springs, could have a wildcard effect in Colorado. Voters there will get the chance to split the difference on gay relationships, if they so choose. On the one hand, Amendment 43 writes into the state's Bill of Rights that marriage is limited to straight couples; it's silent on civil unions. On the other hand, Referendum I provides for statewide domestic partnerships that offer some legal recognition for gay couples, including hospital visitation, inheritance and health-care decision-making. Haggard's outing may leave conservatives feeling dispirited, or it may galvanize them, since the Denver escort who ratted out the evangelist admitted his political motives. Polls show both measures may pass; voters are evenly split, or slightly in favor of, anti-gay Amendment 43, while two recent polls show pro-gay Referendum I with a 4-5% lead.

    4.    South Dakota: Political observers are surprised that this solidly-red state is in a dead heat on Amendment C, which bans the state from recognizing same-sex couples with marriage, civil unions, domestic partnerships or other similar arrangements. This is, after all, the state that dumped Tom Daschle two years ago, even though he was the Democratic Party leader in the U.S. Senate, in a campaign where gay marraige was an issue. This time around, the gay marriage issue has flown a bit under the radar, since both sides on the culture wars are more focused on the abortion ban that is also on the ballot.

    5.    Arizona: Proposition 107 here blocks marriage, civil union and other legal recognition "similar to that of marriage," which proponents claim includes even domestic partner benefits. The polls here are stronger than anywhere else: two recent surveys show opposition over 50% and support in the 30s.

    6.    Tennessee: All eyes have been on the U.S. Senate race, where both Republican Jim Corker and Democrat Harold Ford, Jr., have fallen all over themselves in support for Amendment 1, which blocks the state from marrying gay couples or recognizing marriage licenses issued to same-sex couples by other states. Proponents argue that it might also block D.P. benefits and the like, but the wording doesn't support that. An even sketchier claim hsa been made by Corker in TV ads that paint Ford soft on gay marriage. In fact, the Memphis Democrat backs Amendment 1, voted twice for a federal marriage amendment, and even issued a statement saying he disagreed with last month's New Jersey Supreme Court ruling, which stopped short of ordering that state to marry gay couples. Not surprisingly, Amendment 1 is expected to sail to victory; a recent MTSU poll shows the margin at 74-21%, similar to the lop-sided margins these ballot measures have been decided by in the past. One glimmer of hope: 33% of Tennesseans in the same poll back civil unions, though 59% oppose even that level of recognition.

    7.    South Carolina: The amendment here bans any form of legal recognition by state or local governments for same-sex couples, effectively blocking marriage, civil unions or domestic partnerships. Unlike Virginia's broadly-worded ban, however, South Carolina's specifically provides that private parties (e.g., couples) can still enter into their own private legal arrangements. The measure has not been hotly contested in this very red state, and gay groups are hoping for 30% in opposition to the measure as a "symbolic victory."

    8.    Idaho: Another broadly worded measure here; HJR2 would ban marriage, civil unions, domestic partnerships or any other form of legal recognition for gay couples, as well as D.P. benefits by public universities and local governments for same-sex or unmarried straight couples. Don't expect any miracles in this red state; a poll last week showed support for the measure at 59%, with 36% opposed and 4% undecided.



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    1. Tim on Nov 8, 2006 8:56:33 AM:

      In VA, even though the last Mason-Dixon poll had the race in a dead heat, the amendment passed with 57%. A great disappointment, but I'm not surprised. Poll research has shown that in issues involving value judgments, people are much more likely to tell pollsters the answer they think won't cause the pollster to think poorly of them, and then vote their real belief in the privacy of the voting booth. It makes me wonder what goes on in these peoples' heads that they can't tell a pollster what they really think for fear of being thought a bigot or worse. If you are afraid to voice your opinion out of fear of what others will think of you, maybe you ought to examine your positions.

      That being said, what needs to happen in VA now is the start of a 5 year campaign to have the amendment repealed. The Volstead amendment only lasted 4 years and it's harder to amend the federal constitution. With only a 7% margin, it's do-able. The opposition should begin a campaign of keeping in the public eye all the fallout: contested wills, custody battles, and, God forbid, any attempts to force employers to end domestic partnerships. Show the human consequences. The tag line: "Is this what you intended?".

    1. Tim on Nov 8, 2006 8:58:58 AM:

      Oh, BTW, I ran into Harry Knox at the HRC's party in Washington last night. I had no idea he was in Washington. He works for HRC now, setting up their religion outreach program

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