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ELECTION 06: Marriage amendment no guarantee in conservative South Dakota

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of preview stories about the 2006 Election.

Today: A preview of marriage amendment votes in Idaho and South Dakota.

Tomorrow: A preview of marriage amendment votes in South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.

PIERRE, S.D. (BP)–South Dakota is far from being a bastion of liberalism. It hasn’t gone Democratic in a presidential election since 1964. Just last year, its legislature passed a bill banning most abortions.

But homosexual activists believe they have a legitimate chance to defeat a proposed constitutional marriage amendment that will appear on the ballot there Nov. 7. It is known as Amendment C, and trailed 49-41 percent in at least one pre-election poll. Such amendments typically have sailed through conservative states, but South Dakota could break that trend.

“I know they would like to defeat the South Dakota amendment because they can say if they can win in South Dakota they can win anywhere,” Rob Regier, executive director of the South Dakota Family Policy Council, told Baptist Press.

A loss in South Dakota would be stunning. Marriage amendments are 20-0 at the ballot, including relatively easy victories in 2004 in such “blue” states as Michigan and Oregon. But the South Dakota amendment may have received a boost Oct. 25 when the New Jersey Supreme Court ordered the state legislature to legalize either “gay marriage” or Vermont-style civil unions. South Dakota’s amendment would ban both. It passed the state House 55-14 and the Senate 20-14 early last year.

“It’s tremendously important — politically and spiritually speaking — that the church take the lead on this,” Regier said, stressing the need for Christian conservatives to support the amendment if it is to pass. Approximately 500-600 churches that are part of the statewide Witherspoon Pastors Network “are making a public stand” in support of the amendment, he added.

South Dakota is one of eight states that will be voting on marriage amendments on Election Day. Idaho, another solidly conservative western state, is one of those. That state’s amendment is known as H.J.R. 2. There have been no publicly released polls.

“This isn’t a battle we asked for,” Julie Lynde, a spokeswoman for the conservative group Cornerstone Institute of Idaho, said of “gay marriage.”

“For centuries of human history marriage has been primarily between a man and a woman. Every culture throughout the ages has affirmed a stable marriage between a man and a woman. And suddenly in these final nanoseconds of history someone has decided it’s an issue that needs to be brought to the forefront,” she added.

The nationwide push to adopt marriage amendments gained momentum in the fall of 2003, when Massachusetts’ highest court issued its landmark ruling legalizing “gay marriage.”

“Gay activists all over the country — including in South Dakota — have stated their intention for someday to allow men to marry men and women to marry women,” Regier said. “We’ve seen them have success in other states — like Massachusetts and in Vermont, where they call gay marriage a civil union [and] in California where they call it a domestic partnership. It’s working in other states and someday it’s going to come here.”

Like South Dakota’s, Idaho’s amendment would ban “gay marriage” and civil unions, the latter of which grants homosexual couples the legal benefits of marriage. Opponents in both states claim the amendments will prevent a homosexual person from visiting his or her partner in the hospital.

“That’s another emotional smokescreen,” Lynde said. “There are all sorts of contractual arrangements that can be taken care of to allow that to occur. And, frankly, if that is the issue, let’s talk about that — let’s not talk about redefining marriage.”

The amendment passed the Idaho state House 53-17 and the Senate 26-9 earlier this year. Last year, a similar amendment failed in the Senate, falling three votes short of the necessary two-thirds majority (21). A change in the amendment’s language, plus pressure from constituents, led several senators to change their votes, Lynde said.

“Children absolutely need a mom and a dad,” she said of the need for the amendment. “It’s unconscionable to create intentional motherless or fatherless families.”

South Dakota’s proposed amendment is being overshadowed by the much-publicized vote involving the state’s abortion ban, Regier said. Voters will consider whether to reject a law signed by the governor that would ban abortion except in cases to save the mother’s life. It faces a court challenge even if it survives the Nov. 7 vote.

But the abortion vote — known as Referred Law 6 — figures to draw liberal voters to the polls who might also vote against the marriage amendment. Regier says he has seen two polls showing the amendment winning easily and two polls showing it narrowly losing.

“Our ultimate goal isn’t just to pass the marriage amendment,” he said. “It’s to share the truth in love with men and women struggling with homosexuality. … If we won this election without helping anybody to leave the lifestyle, I think it would be a huge opportunity lost. We are Christians first.”
For more information about Idaho’s amendment, visit www.cornerstoneofidaho.org.

For more information about South Dakota’s amendment, visit www.sdfamily.org.

For more information about the national debate over “gay marriage,” visit http://www.bpnews.net/samesexmarriage

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  • Michael Foust