AUSTIN, Texas (BP)–The nationwide movement to ban “gay marriage” moves to Texas in November, when voters there decide whether to amend their constitution to protect the natural definition of marriage.
But Texas’ vote could be only the beginning in what figures to be a busy 12 months for the nationwide pro-family movement. In 2006 alone, at least nine states could be voting on marriage amendments. And conservatives in some states — such as Massachusetts, where “gay marriage” is legal — already are looking ahead to 2008.
Although 18 states have adopted marriage amendments, that number easily could approach 30 by the end of next year. A marriage amendment has never failed at the ballot.
“An amendment is the only way to take it out of the hands of judges and leave it in the hands of the people,” Kelly J. Shackelford, president of the pro-family Free Market Foundation in Texas, told Baptist Press.
Ironically, court rulings have aided the marriage amendment push. Massachusetts’ high court sparked the amendment movement in 2003 when it handed down its landmark ruling legalizing “gay marriage.” Since then, lower courts in California, New York and Washington state have issued similar decisions. All are being appealed. None of the states have a marriage amendment.
“You kind of have to have your head in the sand to think, ‘We don’t need to do anything.'” Shackelford said. “… There’s a full-out assault to redefine marriage through the courts.”
The amendments trump court rulings and legislative action, sealing the definition of marriage in a state’s constitution. While they can be overturned in federal court — Nebraska’s amendment was struck down by a judge this year — they nonetheless provide an extra layer of protection that state laws do not. And with a federal marriage amendment currently stalled in Congress, the state amendments may be conservatives’ best option at the moment.
“Massachusetts had a statute and the court struck it down. California had a statute and the lower court struck it down,” Shackelford said. “The point is a statute does nothing to prevent an activist judge from redefining marriage. The only way to go above the judge — take it out of their hands and leave it in the hands of the people — is by doing a constitutional amendment.”
Although the 18 state amendments on the books have passed by an average of 70 percent of the vote, a pro-family victory in Texas Nov. 8 is not guaranteed. There are no congressional or gubernatorial elections on the ballot. Instead, the ballot will include the marriage amendment — known as Proposition 2 — as well as a handful of other unrelated constitutional amendments. The amendment would ban both “gay marriage” and Vermont-style civil unions.
“There’s nothing else to bring people out. There’s no governor’s race. There’s no president’s race,” Shackelford said. “… The typical turnout for this type of election is about 5 to 7 percent. So, the other side sees a real opportunity here.”
Shackelford fears a lack of conservative turnout — either because conservative voters don’t know an election is occurring, or because they assume the amendment will pass easily. Liberal and homosexual activist group have organized into a group dubbed “No Nonsense in November.” The Texas AFL-CIO opposes the amendment.
Because the amendment was placed on the ballot via the legislature and not through a voter-backed initiative, many people know nothing about it, Shackelford said.
“Whether we win or lose in this — in a place like Texas — is probably going to depend on whether the Baptists go to vote. If the Baptists don’t turn out, and the church doesn’t turn out, the other side can … actually win this election.
“People really have to wake up on this, or something really shocking could happen in Texas. It’s not like the other states, where there was a big race and millions of people were turning out. This is going to be real low turnout, absent the church really waking up.”
Conservative groups have launched a website — www.texansformarriage.org — which includes sermon aids and bulletin inserts. The proposed amendment reads: “Marriage in this state shall consist only of the union of one man and one woman. This state or a political subdivision of this state may not create or recognize any legal status identical or similar to marriage.”
Following is an update on other states considering marriage amendments:
ALABAMA — Alabama citizens will vote on a marriage amendment in the next statewide election, which as of now is June 2006. The amendment breezed through the legislature earlier this year, passing the Senate 30-0 and the House 85-7. The amendment bans “gay marriage” and any “union replicating marriage,” a phrase which could be interpreted as banning Vermont-style civil unions.
ARIZONA — The pro-family organization Protect Marriage Arizona (www.protectmarriageaz.com) is gathering signatures with the goal of placing an amendment before voters in November 2006. Approximately 183,000 valid signatures must be gathered by July 6. The amendment bans “gay marriage” and any “legal status … similar to that of marriage.”
CALIFORNIA — Conservatives in the Golden State have split into two camps and are promoting competing amendments each hopes to see on the ballot in 2006. Each amendment requires approximately 600,000 valid signatures. ProtectMarriage.com’s amendment has the backing of Focus on the Family, Family Research Council, the Alliance Defense Fund and Concerned Women for America. VoteYesMarriage.com’s amendment has the support of the American Family Association, Campaign for Children and Families, Liberty Counsel and the Traditional Values Coalition.
The two sides disagree over the language an amendment should include. Each side, though, claims its amendment bans both “gay marriage” and civil unions.
California conservatives could be in a race against time: A lawsuit seeking “gay marriage” legalization is making its way through the state courts.
FLORIDA — The conservative group Florida4Marriage.org must collect 611,000 valid signatures by Feb. 1 in order to qualify its amendment for the November 2006 ballot. The amendment bans “gay marriage” and any “union that is treated as marriage or the substantial equivalent thereof.” The American Civil Liberties Union has filed suit to try and keep the amendment off the ballot.
ILLINOIS — A conservative group, Protect Marriage Illinois, must collect 283,000 valid signatures by April in order to place a referendum on the November 2006 ballot. The referendum itself would not amend the constitution but instead would call on Illinois legislators to do so. (According to Illinois law, amendments must by initiated by the legislature, which thus far has been cool to the idea.) Conservatives hope a successful signature drive and referendum will put heat on politicians. The group has launched a website: www.protectmarriageillinois.org.
INDIANA — The Indiana legislature passed a marriage amendment earlier this year, completing the first step of a lengthy three-step process. It must pass again during the next elected legislature before going to voters, which would be 2008 at the earliest. The House passed the amendment this year, 76-23, the Senate, 42-8. The amendment bans “gay marriage” and prevents the “legal incidents” of marriage from being given to unmarried couples.
MASSACHUSETTS — The conservative group VoteOnMarriage.org must collect some 66,000 valid signatures for its marriage amendment by Thanksgiving. If successful, the amendment would then need the support of at least 25 percent of legislators in two consecutive sessions. If that hurdle is cleared, then the amendment would go on the ballot in 2008. The amendment essentially would reverse the 2003 ruling by the Massachusetts high court legalizing “gay marriage.” The amendment would ban future “gay marriages” but allow those that already have taken place to stand. Conservatives fear that a stronger-worded amendment would be struck down in federal court and would never make it through the legislature, which is one of the more liberal ones in America.
SOUTH CAROLINA — Citizens there will vote on a marriage amendment in November 2006. It passed the South Carolina Senate this year 37-1 and the House on a voice vote. The amendment bans “gay marriage” and says traditional marriage is “the only lawful domestic union” that is to be recognized. That phrase could be interpreted to nix civil unions.
SOUTH DAKOTA — The state legislature passed an amendment earlier this year, sending it to citizens for a November 2006 vote. It passed the state House 55-14 and the Senate 20-14. The amendment bans “gay marriage”, Vermont-style civil unions and California-style domestic partnerships.
TENNESSEE — Citizens in the Volunteer State will vote on a marriage amendment in November 2006. The amendment passed the state House this year, 88-7, and the Senate, 29-3. The amendment bans “gay marriage” but apparently does not ban civil unions, although that would be up to judicial interpretation. The ACLU has filed a lawsuit trying to keep it off the ballot.
VIRGINIA — The Virginia legislature passed an amendment in February, and must pass it again during the next session if it is to appear on the November 2006 ballot. It passed the House of Delegates 79-17 and the Senate 30-10. The amendment would ban “gay marriage,” civil unions and domestic partnerships.
WISCONSIN — An amendment passed the Wisconsin legislature in 2004 and must pass again in order to appear on the ballot in November 2006. It passed the Senate 20-13 and the Assembly 68-27. It bans “gay marriage” and “any legal status identical to or substantially similar to” marriage.
For more information about the national debate over “gay marriage,” visit www.bpnews.net/samesexmarriage.