THE JUXTAPOSITION last week was startling. On the same day, (a) voters in the Missouri primary overwhelmingly approved a state constitutional amendment establishing marriage as being exclusively between a man and a woman, and (b) a state judge in Washington ruled that the 19th-century writers of that state's constitution had made exclusively heterosexual marriage unconstitutional.
The vote in Missouri was not close: 71 percent in favor of the constitutional amendment, 29 percent against. Moreover, because of a hard-fought primary that wound up ousting Democratic governor Bob Holden, turnout was weighted to the Democratic side--roughly 58 percent Democratic voters, 42 percent Republican. And the opponents of the amendment--the pro-gay-marriage side--outspent backers of traditional marriage roughly 40 to 1--$400,000 to $10,000.
Missouri, the first state to hold a referendum since the Massachusetts supreme court imposed same-sex marriage over the objections of the governor and state legislature, confirmed that nothing has changed in voters' attitude to the idea. In 1998, it was Hawaii and Alaska; in 2000, Nebraska; in 2002, Nevada. In 2004, Missouri. The vote in every one of these states was more than 2-to-1 in favor of a constitutional prohibition of gay marriage. In Hawaii, the only state more Democratic than Massachusetts when it comes to electing Democrats as governors, senators, and congressmen, the vote was 69.2 to 28.6 percent in favor of an amendment overruling that state's supreme court. Between now and November 2, as many as 12 more states will hold constitutional referendums on marriage.
John Kerry, as it happens, was in Missouri the day after the same-sex marriage vote. It is a state in which, according to the daily political newsletter The Hotline, two of the three most recent polls show Kerry leading George W. Bush; the third has the two candidates tied. Missouri's 11 electoral votes, won narrowly by Bush in 2000, would make Kerry president if the 49 other states stayed with the same party as in 2000.
Asked in St. Louis about the previous day's vote, Kerry said he had no problem with it. He, after all, unlike George W. Bush, is the candidate who favors letting each state make its own decision. He didn't add that he was one of 14 senators, all liberal Democrats, who voted against the Defense of Marriage Act, signed into law by President Clinton in 1996. The purpose of DOMA was to let each state prohibit same-sex marriage even if a gay couple, married under some other state's law, demanded recognition of their union by invoking the Full Faith and Credit clause of the U.S. Constitution. In his 1996 statement opposing DOMA, Kerry said he believed the law to be unconstitutional.
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