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Measure for measure.

Gays and lesbians win one initiative fight and lose three others, including a surprise defeat in Maine

For gays and lesbians going to the polls Election Day, it wasn't just the candidates that mattered. Measures that served as barometers of how voters view gay rights and gay relationships were on the ballots in four states, and the results were a decidedly mixed bag. Activists in Oregon were able to celebrate an important victory, but gays and lesbians in Nebraska and Nevada suffered setbacks, while gays in Maine met with a bitter and unexpected defeat.

Experts say the passage of antigay initiatives was due at least partly to poorly worded ballots that confused voters. "The average apathetic voter does not have a lot of time to prepare to vote," says Amy Miller, legal director and staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union's Nebraska chapter. "Just reading the [Nebraska] amendment, it did not stand out what was at stake."

Meanwhile, success for gays and lesbians in Oregon resulted from well-organized canvassing and educational efforts there. "The elections tell us that when we have sufficient local infrastructures to reach out and communicate with voters, we are more competitive and able to win," says David Elliot, communications director for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.


Voters in Oregon narrowly turned back Christian conservative Lon Mabon's Measure 9, 53%-47% The ballot measure, known informally as "No Promo Homo," would have barred public schools, including state-subsidized colleges, from "encouraging, promoting, or sanctioning" homosexuality. Schools that disobeyed would have had their funding cut or eliminated.

M.K. Cullen, director of public policy for the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, says Measure 9 was particularly misleading because it was titled the Student Protection Act. "There is every indication that folks saw through the deceptive language," says Cullen. "Really, what the schools face is homophobia and the continued harassment and isolation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered young people."

Kathleen Sullivan, manager of the No on 9 campaign, says the campaign's success came in part because her group mobilized 7,000 volunteers and raised some $1.4 million to combat the measure. "We ran a very strong campaign," she says. "We knew this was going to be close, and we built a solid volunteer base in the last six months." In the final two weeks of the campaign, Sullivan says, volunteers contacted about 120,000 Oregon voters either by telephone or by knocking on doors.

In the past 12 years, Mabon and his Oregon Citizens Alliance have placed four antigay initiatives on statewide ballots and more than three dozen initiatives on local ballots. Only one of Mabon's statewide initiatives passed, and it was later overturned by the Oregon court of appeals. Sullivan says gays and lesbians will probably face another antigay Mabon initiative in two years. Indeed, Mabon told The [Portland] Oregonian he is already rewriting this year's failed measure to make it more palatable.

"Our job is to keep the coalition mobilized and volunteers and activists up-to-date with what is going on," Sullivan says. "And if he does get on the ballot in 2002, he will lose by a much greater percentage than he did this year."


In what was the most surprising and disappointing loss for activists, Maine's Question 6, an initiative to protect gay civil rights in the state, was defeated by less than one percentage point. "It came in very close," says David Garrity, president of the Maine Lesbian Gay Political Alliance and cochair of Yes on 6.

Garrity and cochair Susan Farnsworth called the loss "really hard." In fact, gay rights supporters hoped they had finally put together a bill that voters would approve, having had another nondiscrimination measure repealed in a 1998 election. Question 6 received the support of various mainstream organizations, including the Roman Catholic diocese of Portland, Maine. The Yes on 6 campaign raised far more funds than opponents of the measure, and polls showed voters supporting the initiative by a comfortable margin.

In the end, though, Garrity says, the biggest problem was a long ballot crowded with many other initiatives. Additionally, the race for president attracted much of the spotlight, making it hard for competing messages to be heard. In an ironic twist, Garrity says positive media coverage, which reported that those who favored the initiative outnumbered the opposition by as much as 2-1, may have led supporters to drop the ball.


Though activists expected a tight race in Nebraska, more than two thirds of voters there eventually approved the state's "Defense of Marriage Amendment," Initiative 416--an amendment to the state constitution that bans not only civil unions but also domestic-partner relationships.

Nebraska is the first state to ban domestic partnerships, and in so doing, it may open up a legal can of worms. Some experts argue that the new law will not only outlaw domestic-partner arrangements but also make it illegal for businesses to offer domestic-partner benefits to employees. In some cases it could also make some standing business relationships illegal. "Domestic partner is also a legal term in Nebraska for a business partnership, such as might exist between a father and a son," says the ACLU's Miller.

Miller adds that the amendment probably got so much support because the average voter didn't stop to ponder its wording, which asked whether marriage should be "between one man and one woman." Additionally, proponents of the measure--which included the conservative Nebraska Family Council, according to Miller--outspent their opponents by at least 5 to 1. Nevertheless, Miller says she thinks the amendment will not stand up in court. "There is every likelihood there will be a legal challenge," she says. "And the ACLU will be involved."


Nevadans passed Question 2, known to its proponents as the "Protection of Marriage Amendment," 70%-30%. As in Nebraska, the initiative is an amendment to the state constitution. Unlike in Nebraska, however, Nevada state law requires two referenda for amendments to the constitution, so voters will have to revisit the issue in 2002 for a final vote. "I believe most Nevadans don't understand the language and the intent of the bill," says Ben Felix, cochair of Equal Rights Nevada. "The intent was to discriminate against gays and lesbians in a constitutional amendment."

Felix points out that there is already a law in Nevada that defines marriage as between one man and one woman, so an amendment to the state constitution is redundant. He adds that his organization, which raised $20,000, was outspent by Christian conservative groups, which raised about $750,000.

Felix says his group's mission over the next two years will be to inform state legislators and voters about the issue. "We are going to engage in a full outright campaign to educate the population of Nevada of the true intent of this law," he says.

RELATED ARTICLE: Winning on principle

Despite an all-out effort by foes of Vermont's civil unions law, its future looks secure By Sarah Wildman

When Vermont's civil unions law passed in April, opponents promised retribution at the polls. But after a contentious campaign that made this fall's election almost exclusively a referendum on civil unions, most Vermonters rejected the conservative effort, effectively upholding the law that grants gay men and lesbians many of the benefits afforded straight married couples.

Almost immediately after the civil unions law passed, the Green Mountain State was roiled with debate. Lawns and barns bore the signature of a conservative backlash called "Take Back Vermont" that based its agenda on rolling back the benefits. In September a number of moderate Republicans lost their primary battles to conservatives who vowed to repeal the law. On Election Day in November, Democrats managed to hold a slim majority in the state senate but lost control of the house. Several Democrats who were key backers of the measure lost to Republicans who played on voter outrage; among the victims was state senator Mark MacDonald, whose district was described by The Burlington Free Press as "ground zero" of the "Take Back Vermont" movement.

Gov. Howard Dean, once known as the wildly popular Democrat whose state has the highest percentage of health-insured children, faced the biggest challenge of his four-term gubernatorial career in the candidacy of Ruth Dwyer, a former state legislator who ran opposing the "homosexual agenda." Because of a quirk in Vermont law, the governor has to receive over 50% of the vote to win; any less, and the decision is made by the legislature, a scenario feared by many who saw conservative Republicans making significant gains. With Dwyer running hard to his right and Vermont Progressive Party candidate Anthony Pollina to his left, Dean squeaked past the 50% mark to retain his seat.

But despite the bitterness of the debate, the outcome revealed an electorate less divided than civil unions supporters had feared. Dwyer received only 39% of the vote, and Pollina 10%. Because the combined total for Dean and Pollina, both civil unions proponents, was upward of 60%, advocates of civil unions point to the figure as evidence that the majority of Vermont citizens actually favor the law. Says Beth Robinson, a leader of the Vermont Freedom to Marry Task Force: "A strong majority of Vermonters are ready to move on, put the sloganeering aside, stop talking about taking Vermont back or forward or taking it anywhere, and put our mind to solving some of the real problems that we confront."

Wildman is a Washington, D.C.-based writer who has contributed to The Washington Post and The New Republic.

Quittner also contributes to Business Week and The New York Times.
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Title Annotation:results of initiative battles from the Nov 2000 elections that address gay issues
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 19, 2000
Previous Article:Win some, lose some.
Next Article:The triumph of Normal.

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