The moderate majority.
The political course correction orchestrated by fed-up voters on Tuesday did more than end one-party rule in Washington, D.C. It also sent a pointed message to the architects of hot-button ballot measures: Even in conservative strongholds such as South Dakota, Missouri and Arizona, common-sense moderates can muster a majority on issues such as abortion, stem cell research and same-sex marriage.
In the nation's hottest abortion battle, South Dakota's voters overturned a recently enacted state law that would have banned all abortions - including in cases of rape and incest. Missouri citizens approved a measure backing stem cell research, and Arizona became the first state to defeat an amendment to ban same-sex marriage.
South Dakota's draconian abortion ban, which passed by wide margins in the state Legislature, was deliberately extreme in order to provoke a legal challenge that would have eventually forced the U.S. Supreme Court to revisit its Roe vs. Wade ruling.
But abortion-rights activists thwarted that strategy with a successful referendum petition to place the issue on the ballot. On Tuesday, South Dakota citizens decisively rejected the nation's strictest abortion law, 56 percent to 44 percent.
Anti-abortion political efforts also suffered Election Day setbacks in Oregon and California. Solid majorities defeated ballot measures in both states that would have required doctors to notify parents before performing abortions on girls younger than 18. The parental notification defeats are particularly significant in light of how successful such efforts have been in the past. Oregon and California are two of only a half-dozen states without parental notification laws.
Tuesday's victories for abortion rights advocates serve as a reminder that a majority of Americans have always supported a woman's right to choose whether to continue an unplanned pregnancy. Year after year in poll after poll, roughly 55 percent of the American public believes women should have access to safe, legal abortions. Grandstanding politicians notwithstanding, when ordinary citizens are given an opportunity to vote directly on the issue, they generally choose choice.
On the perennially divisive topic of same-sex marriage, Arizona became the first state in the nation with the courage to risk whatever dire consequences may await any state that fails to outlaw gay marriage in its constitution. Gay marriage bans have passed in every one of the 28 other states in which they have been on the ballot, including Oregon, usually following campaigns suggesting that heterosexual marriage is the bedrock institution of civilized society, and it's being threatened with extinction.
A few days after the election, the people of the Grand Canyon State are, by all accounts, alive and well. Their willingness to tempt fate probably resulted from enlightened self-interest. Opponents of the gay marriage ban mounted a successful campaign to convince voters that prohibiting civil unions or domestic partnerships would cause some heterosexual couples to lose their health benefits.
In addition to the setbacks for social conservatives, minimum wage increases - a cornerstone of the Democratic agenda - passed by big margins in all six states where they appeared on the ballot. That's due in no small part to the tangible difference minimum wage hikes make in the lives of millions of low-wage workers - who also vote.
Celebrations, though richly deserved, should be brief. Anti-abortion forces are already at work refining tactics for a new round of assaults on reproductive rights. Embryonic stem cell research is still being held hostage by President Bush's veto of funding legislation passed by a Republican-controlled Congress.
And as the inevitable same-sex marriage bans begin appearing on future ballots, here's hoping other states take courage from those plucky heterosexual health-benefit defenders in Arizona.
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|Title Annotation:||Editorials; Voters deal setbacks to social conservatives|
|Publication:||The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)|
|Date:||Nov 13, 2006|
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