Despite the resounding victory for Barack Obama and the Democrats on Nov. 4, the state-level referenda sent a mixed signal on whether the U.S. is moving left or right on social issues. While exit polls showed moral issues were less important than in other recent elections, about one-quarter to one-third still gave moral issues serious consideration when casting ballots for president, senator or Congressman and pro-life and pro-family candidates were the beneficiaries of these values voters.
According to exit polls of voters on election day, 30 per cent said they voted for the candidate who shared their moral values. Of that 30 per cent, the pro-life, pro-family Republican, John McCain, won by 66-31 per cent. Those who voted on the economy, terrorism or the war in Iraq, overwhelmingly supported Obama. This indicates that the Republican Party was hurt by its stance (or record) on other matters and not social issues.
Many political commentators, including some on the right, say the Nov. 4 results prove the Republicans need to move to the left on social issues and they were quick to blame McCain’s pick of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and the culture wars she re-ignited in the final two months of the campaign, for the GOP loss on election day.
But referendum results from across the country paint a decidedly mixed picture. In liberal California, Proposition 8, a ballot measure that would define marriage as the union of one man and one woman within the state’s constitution, passed by a 52 per cent to 48 per cent. The margin of victory was supplied by the increased minority (black and Hispanic) turnout that showed up at the polls to vote for Barack Obama.
Proposition 8 was one of the most expensive political campaigns in U.S. history ($70 million) with Hollywood, gay organizations and individuals, unions, and numerous Democrats opposing the amendment with their money, activism and endorsements. They resorted to dishonest ads suggesting that the religious right would go on a witch-hunt to destroy all the civil liberties of homosexuals.
Support for Proposition 8 came from a broad coalition of pro-family and religious groups including the Catholic church, evangelicals, Mormons and conservative Jews.
The amendment was necessary because in May, the California Supreme Court decided in a 4-3 vote to ignore a 2000 referendum (supported by 61 per cent of Californians) that outlawed same-sex “marriage.” Thousands of homosexual couples were married in the intervening months and Jerry Brown, the state attorney-general, re-wrote the amendment to state it “eliminates (the) right of same-sex couples to ?marry.'” The negative wording did not thwart the initiative and now opponents are asking the courts to negate the referendum results.
Voters in Florida and Arizona also upheld traditional marriage.
Florida’s Amendment 2, the Florida Marriage Protection Amendment, passed with over 60 per cent of the vote. It restricts marriage “or the substantial equivalent thereof” (civil unions) to opposite-sex couples.
In Arizona, Proposition 102, which says, “Only a union of one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in this state,” also passed, 57-43 per cent. A similar measure was narrowly defeated in 2006.
Since 1998, 30 states have passed laws restricting marriage to heterosexual couples.
However, all was not good news. Washington became the second state to legalize assisted suicide. Initiative 1000, the “Death with Dignity Act,” passed 59-41 per cent. It will allow physicians to prescribe a fatal dose of medication to patients whom a doctor feels is likely to die within six months. The measure imitates the Oregon law, passed in 1994, and fulfills the desire of euthanasia groups for Oregon-plus-one, which they believe will lead to a domino effect in which other states liberalize their euthanasia or assisted-suicide laws now that Oregon is not the only state that permits assisted suicide. Opponents of Initiative 1000 were outspent and out-organized.
Voters in Michigan approved a state constitutional amendment that permits state funding for embryonic stem cell research by a narrow margin (52-48). According to the Detroit Free Press, both sides of Proposition 2 spent $5 million on the campaign. Prop 2 permits funding for ESCR when the embryonic human being is slated to be discarded by fertility clinics and is not more than 14 days old.
Opposition to Prop 2, led by Michigan Right to Life and the Michigan Catholic Conference, argued that destroying innocent human life is never justified.
In Colorado, Amendment 48 defining personhood as beginning at the moment of conception, was defeated 74-26 per cent. Judi Brown of the American Life League said that despite the initiative’s failure, it will change the face of the pro-life movement: “The personhood fire began in Colorado and has now ignited personhood campaigns in 16 states … (we) plan to champion personhood movements at both the state and federal levels.” Critics raised fears that the bill would not only affect the abortion debate, but also recriminalize most birth control.
In South Dakota, Measure 11, which would have banned abortion except in cases of rape, incest and to save the life of the mother, was defeated 55-45 per cent. In 2006, the state legislature passed a bill that prohibited all abortion in the state, except in those cases where continuing a pregnancy would pose a medical threat to the mother’s life; opponents put the measure to the test of voters that fall and it was defeated 56-44, when abortion advocates focused on hard cases such as rape and incest.
Many pro-life leaders, including Dr. Jack Willke of the International Right to Life Federation and Fr. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life, accepted the political compromise of a rape and incest exception, with the hope of re-examining the exceptions at a later date, noting that so few abortions take place in such cases.
Some leaders of South Dakota Right to Life urged voters to reject the measure on the grounds that the watered-down version was a betrayal of pro-life principles.
Leslee Unruh, a leading supporter of the initiative, said the division amongst the pro-life groups caused a lot of confusion among voters, although polls do not indicate pro-life opposition to Measure 11 led to its defeat. “We’re coming back. We’re not going away. … Third time’s the charm,” Unruh told the Los Angeles Times.
So what does all this mean? It is hard to say. Elections, ballots and polls are imperfect measures of the public’s views on precise issues, because turnout and other factors skew the results. But Pavone provided perspective: “Political races are always a swinging of the pendulum. As soon as you win, you begin to lose, and as soon as you lose, you begin the ascent again to winning. In the next two election cycles (2010 and 2012) the pro-life movement will make up for political ground lost in this one.”
So the results show a country in flux, indicating the job of social conservatives is far from done. That is as true in victory as in defeat.