Missouri votes to bar gay unions

Amendment defines who can be married

1st such vote since Mass. ruling

Activists on both sides anxiously awaited returns

Mo. votes to prohibit gay unions

August 04, 2004|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

ST. LOUIS - A constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage was headed for approval yesterday in Missouri, the nation's first such election since same-sex marriage became legal in Massachusetts earlier this year.

The amendment had garnered 73 percent of the vote with 2,328 of 3,992 precincts reporting.

Voters in at least nine other states - and perhaps as many as 12 - are expected to consider similar amendments this fall, so advocates on both sides of the debate were intensely watching Missouri's results, anxious about what they might say about voters elsewhere in the weeks ahead.

"What happens in Missouri will be looked at by people across the country," said Seth Kilbourn, the national field director for the Human Rights Campaign, a Washington group that has worked against the proposed amendment in Missouri with more than $100,000 for television advertisements, telephone banks and polling.

Vicky Hartzler, a spokeswoman for the Coalition to Protect Marriage in Missouri, which has pressed for the amendment with church functions, yard signs and a "marriage chain" of rallies across the state, said she hoped that the outcome would send a loud message to the rest of the country: "Here in the heartland we have a heart for families, and this is how deeply we feel about marriage."

In Missouri, as in more than 30 other states, a statute already defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman. But Hartzler and others said they feared that a state provision might not be enough for a court somewhere, given the decision in November by Massachusetts' highest court that gay marriage was not prohibited under that state's constitution.

"This wasn't a battle we sought out," Hartzler said. "It was brought on us in Missouri by what happened there."

If the fight began elsewhere, it has also sometimes been waged with the help of groups from other parts of the country. Opponents of the Missouri measure spent hundreds of thousands of dollars, particularly on a last-minute television blitz, while supporters said they spent far less.

Many voters on both sides said yesterday that they expected the ban to be approved. Missouri has often been described as a reflection of the entire country because of its blend of Southern and Northern, of tiny farming towns and large cities such as Kansas City and St. Louis. Much of the state is socially traditional and old-fashioned, said Matthew Byer, 37, as he left his polling place in Ladue, a wealthy western suburb of St. Louis.

"Myself, I don't think it's right," Byer said of the amendment. "It is embarrassing to me that I think this is going to pass because of fears and because of concerns about what same-sex marriage would mean to married people.

"It doesn't affect them in any way, shape or form."

In some polling places, there was confusion.

In Woodson Terrace, a northwest suburb of St. Louis, Norma Gladman, 76, said she opposed same-sex marriage but was not sure quite what to think of changing the state's constitution.

"Isn't there already a ban?" Gladman asked her friends as they walked into the polling place.

A few people said they felt rattled by the wording of the amendment: "Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended so that to be valid and recognized in this state, a marriage shall exist only between a man and a woman?" Some paused and worried aloud as they left the polling place whether their "yes" or "no" vote had accurately reflected their intent.

Others, on each side, were certain.

In Ladue, Lindsay Goldford, a 20-year-old college student, said her strong Christian background and beliefs were the basis of her support for an amendment. "When you look at marriage, it's between a man and a woman," she said. "Biblically, homosexuality isn't in the plan."

And under a single umbrella outside a polling place also in Ladue, two longtime friends learned yesterday that they did not agree.

Mary Klostermeier, 77, said she saw the need to bar gay marriage. "I guess I'm in the old school," Klostermeier said. "I'm just a very religious person."

But her friend Gene Gabianelli, 72, said he had voted against a ban. "People should do what they want to do," Gabianelli said. "This whole thing is all about politics as far as I can tell - all about mobilizing people for George Bush."

In fact, local political leaders here had fought over the timing of the amendment. Some Republicans had pressed to hold the vote in November, during the general election. Democrats, who had more competitive primary races yesterday including a hard-fought governor's race, pushed to hold it now. Election officials said turnout appeared to be high for a primary, despite thunderstorms.

"The political calculus that has been made by the Bush people is that more people will turn out from the far-right conservative base with this issue on the ballot," Kilbourn said. "This is all about the politics of distraction. It distracts from the economy, the job losses, the issues people care about."

But Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said the wave of amendments around the country had grown naturally. "The American people want to protect the institution of marriage. That's what's driving this whole thing," he said. "When the people are given a choice, their voices are very clear."

Voters in Louisiana plan to vote on a marriage amendment Sept. 18. In November, voters in Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, Montana, Oklahoma, Oregon and Utah are expected to consider similar measures. Ballot initiatives are awaiting approval in Michigan, North Dakota and Ohio. Four states - Alaska, Hawaii, Nebraska and Nevada - had passed constitutional amendments banning gay marriage before the Massachusetts ruling.

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