Voters in Alaska, Hawaii defeat initiatives on homosexual marriage Washington state quashes affirmative action effort

Election 1998 : Nation

November 05, 1998|By Lyle Denniston | Lyle Denniston,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Voters in Alaska and Hawaii, in the most decisive defeats yet for homosexual marriages, took that issue out of their courts Tuesday to head off potential rulings in favor of such unions.

Those were the first states where it has appeared likely that same-sex marriage would become a state constitutional right. If either state allowed such unions, other states might have to recognize the marriages if the couples moved or traveled elsewhere.

In Alaska, voters by a 68-32 percent margin rewrote the state constitution to declare that no marriage in the state is legal unless it is "between one man and one woman."

Hawaii voters moved their state closer to that result by voting, by a 69-20 percent margin, to change the state constitution to allow the legislature, if it wishes, "to reserve marriage to opposite-sex couples."

Opponents of homosexual marriage praised the outcomes. Jay Alan Sekulow, chief counsel of the conservative American Center of Law and Justice, said the votes sent "a clear signal that America is not -- and may never be -- ready for homosexual marriage."

But gay rights forces vowed to fight on, perhaps challenging the Alaska and Hawaii measures in court, and increasing their efforts to pass laws to give homosexual couples access to the benefits of marriage under state law even if those couples are not allowed to marry.

"If the goal is to get legal status for gay and lesbian relationships," said Matthew Coles of the liberal American Civil Liberties Union's gay rights project, "then domestic partnership laws are a much more likely approach."

The political and legal fight over same-sex marriage has been waged in nearly all the states and in Congress for more than five years, and it was the most emotional of several gay rights controversies before voters this year.

Congress has sought to head off the spread of gay marriages, passing a law that said states would not have to honor gay marriages performed elsewhere. Congress also restricted marriage benefits under all federal laws to opposite-sex couples.

A total of 25 states have banned gay marriages, while 24 others -- including Maryland -- have refused to do so.

Fight shifts to Vermont

In the wake of Tuesday's elections, the fight over the issue now shifts to Vermont, where another court test is unfolding in the state Supreme Court.

On Nov. 18, the state court will hold a hearing on a plea by three homosexual couples that the judges interpret Vermont's marriage law to permit same-sex marriage. If the law does not allow that, the couples argue, it should be struck down as discrimination under the state constitution.

In Tuesday's balloting, voters faced a total of six measures on gay rights issues. Gay rights forces lost all but one of those proposals. In South Portland, Maine, voters approved by 54-46 percent a city ordinance giving gays equal access to housing, jobs, public accommodations and credit.

But, in Fayetteville, Ark., voters repealed a gay rights ordinance by a 58 percent to 42 percent margin, as did voters in Fort Collins, Colo., by a 62 percent to 38 percent margin. In Ogunquit, Maine, voters refused -- by a vote of 383-374 -- to adopt a similar ordinance.

California model

Meanwhile, voters in Washington made their state the second in the nation to outlaw affirmative action in government jobs and contracting and in public education. They adopted, by a 59-41 percent margin, "Initiative 200" -- a near copy of California's pioneering "Proposition 209," enacted by the voters two years ago.

Ward Connerly, the California businessman who wrote the California measure and helped promote its Washington copy, said that "Washingtonians have signaled to the country that the principle of fairness and equality for all, not just a chosen few, is not just a California idea."

But opponents of Initiative 200 vowed to challenge it in federal court -- as Californians are still doing to try to undo Proposition 209.

Supporters of the drive to ban affirmative action laws said they would now turn to Michigan and Nebraska, for possible initiative battles in 1999. They also will seek next year to repeal a city ordinance in Houston favoring affirmative action.

Legalizing marijuana

Voters in four states approved the medical use of marijuana, thus joining a running battle -- in court and elsewhere -- with the Clinton administration, which opposes the practice, contending there is no scientific proof of its value.

The unofficial results in the five states showed medicinal marijuana gaining approval by these margins: Alaska, 58-42 percent; Arizona, 57-43; Nevada, 59-41; Oregon, 55-45; and Washington, 59-41. Voters in the District of Columbia also cast ballots on the issue, but those were not counted, pending the outcome of a court case over Congress' attempt to block the measure.

With the Tuesday outcomes, six states have now gone on record in favor of allowing at least some seriously ill patients to be treated with marijuana, despite a continuing threat by anti-drug officials in the administration to block all access to the substance.

On other controversial medical issues, voters in Michigan turned down, by a resounding 71-29 margin, a proposal to permit doctor-assisted suicide, while voters in Colorado -- by a 52-48 vote -- and Washington -- 57-43 -- rejected proposals to ban a controversial form of abortion often performed late in pregnancy.

Pub Date: 11/05/98

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