Ballot Initiatives: No to Gay Marriage, Anti-Abortion Measures

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A voter studies her ballot while deciding how to vote.

Alongside the historic ballot for the Presidency, 36 U.S. states presented 153 ballot initiatives to voters on Nov. 4, according to the Initiative & Referendum Institute of the University of Southern California. Many of the measures tackled social issues ranging from gay marriage and affirmative action to prostitution and assisted suicide. Despite high Democratic voter turnout, not all socially progressive issues fared well in the voting booth. Here's how Americans voted on some of the most contentious issues.


Colorado voters on Tuesday rejected Amendment 48, which would have defined a "person" from the point of egg fertilization. If the measure had passed, Colorado would have become the first state to grant full constitutional rights to a fertilized egg. The potentially far-reaching ramifications of such a decision divided the anti-abortion community, and the amendment lost endorsements from prominent activists who felt the personhood definition went too far. The amendment was defeated nearly 3 to 1.

Although South Dakota's Measure 11 included more exceptions to the outright abortion ban — for example, allowing abortion in rare cases of incest, rape or when the mother's life or health are endangered — than a similar initiative that was defeated in 2006, the new measure was rejected by 56% of voters yesterday. According to Kristine Wilfore, executive director of the Washington-based nonprofit Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, which advocates socially progressive issues, the initiative would have set in motion a future challenge to Roe v. Wade if passed. "It was an effort to get as close as possible to challenging Roe," Wilfore said, pointing out that South Dakota already has some of the most stringent abortion policies in the country. "This was just meant to be a test case."

Proposition 4, which would have required parental notification for girls under 18 seeking an abortion and mandated a 48-hour waiting period before the procedure, was rejected by California voters Tuesday by a vote of 52% to 48%. Prop 4 was similar to other parental-consent proposals that were defeated in 2005 and 2006.

Affirmative Action

A measure to ban affirmative action in Colorado was trailing by just 0.1% of the vote Wednesday morning and the final decision is still too close to call. Some progressive groups have derided the measure and questioned whether it was accurately represented as a "Civil Rights Initiative." Led by Ward Connerly, an African-American management consultant and former regent at the University of California, Colorado's Amendment 46 follows similar efforts by the activist that have passed in California, Washington and Michigan. Connerly has hailed Barack Obama's political success as evidence that affirmative action is outdated.

Connerly also championed Initiative 424, which Nebraskans passed on Tuesday, amending the state's constitution to ban affirmative action. The amendment prohibits discrimination or preferential treatment given to "individuals or groups based upon race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in operating public employment, education or contracting." A pending lawsuit over the legitimacy of the signatures collected to get the initiative on the ballot may undermine the election results.

Age of Sexual Consent

South Carolina has long ignored the state constitution's clause that sets the age of sexual consent for unmarried women at 14, instead following the statutory law that establishes the age of consent for both genders at 16. Amendment 1, which passed Tuesday with 52% of the vote, will eliminate the constitutional clause altogether. The erasure from the more than century-old constitution still needs to be ratified by the South Carolina legislature before it will take effect, but advocates say it is a common sense move to clean up the conflicting laws.

Animal Rights

A measure to require more humane confinement of farm animals passed easily in California, with 63% of the vote. The initiative, backed by the Humane Society, will ensure that at minimum penned animals have enough space to lie down, turn around and fully extend their limbs. Presently, many animals are kept in small crates that impair much of their movement. The new bill, which will become law in 2015, will impact more than 20 million animals, including egg-laying hens, breeding pigs and calves raised for veal.

Beer, Wine and Soda Taxes

Maine voters easily repealed a measure introduced last April that imposed nearly double the amount of taxes on beer, wine and soft drinks made by large producers. The taxes were also levied on the syrup used to make soda. Despite Governor John Baldacci's efforts to convince voters that the tax dollars would go toward more affordable health insurance across the state, an active "Fed Up with Taxes" campaign — funded largely by the beer, wine and soda industries — helped yield the "people's veto" Tuesday, with 63% voting for the repeal.

Gay Rights

Under the current Arizona statutory law, same-sex marriage is prohibited. Arizonans passed Proposition 102 on Tuesday, further amending the state's constitution to define marriage expressly as "a union between one man and one woman." Although a similar proposition was defeated at the polls in 2006, the initiative passed in this election with 56% of the vote. Three states — Arizona, California and Florida — voted on gay marriage bans this year, down from 11 states four years ago.

Prompting celebration among conservative activists and dismay among proponents of gay rights, in Florida, 62% of voters cast their ballots in favor of Amendment 2, which also limits the legal definition of marriage to the union between "one man and one woman as husband and wife." The initiative, sponsored by the conservative organization Florida4Marriage, declares that "no other legal union that is treated as marriage or the substantial equivalent thereof shall be valid or recognized."

Less than six months after the California State Supreme Court declared in a 4-3 decision that a 2000 gay marriage ban was unconstitutional, the state's voters passed Proposition 8, which will overturn the Court's decision. The proposition was approved with 52% of the vote, or a 400,000-vote margin.

A majority of voters in Arkansas — more than 57% — favored a measure that will prohibit unmarried, cohabiting couples from adopting children or serving as foster parents. The ballot initiative was introduced by the conservative Family Council in an effort to slow the "gay agenda," but detractors, including the Arkansas Families First coalition, say that the decision will serve mainly to further limit the number of homes available to foster children.

See the Top 10 ballot measures.

See pictures from the historic Election Day.

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