Religious Right In America Suffer Ballot Defeats

The religious right in American this week suffered a series of electoral defeats in ballots on the “hot button” issues that obsess them – abortion, gay rights and ‘affirmative action’. The referendums, known as ballot measures, are proposed state laws that must be approved or rejected directly by voters within states. They are often held in conjunction with general elections for practical reasons. A total of 205 measures were on the ballots in 37 states on an array of America’s most divisive social issues such as boosting minimum wages and tobacco taxes and legalising marijuana.

The state of South Dakota overturned proposals from its legislature for a law that would have banned virtually all abortions, even in cases of rape and incest. The outcome was a severe blow to US conservatives. No other measure had riveted political activists across the country like this one had. Passed overwhelmingly by the legislature earlier this year, it would have allowed abortions only to save a pregnant woman’s life. Had the ban been upheld in this ballot, abortion-rights supporters would likely have launched a legal challenge that could have led to a US Supreme Court reversal of the 1973 Roe v Wade decision legalising abortion.

Arizona became the first state to reject an amendment to its constitution to ban gay marriage. However, seven other states did pass such laws, although by considerably smaller margins than previous votes on these issues in other states. It gives hope to gay activists that the gay marriage attack is running out of steam.

In Michigan, voters decided that discrimination on grounds of race and gender should not be permitted in employment in public universities or working for the government. The state joins California and Washington in banning some types of affirmative action programs – a move that comes just weeks before the US Supreme Court is to hear arguments in two cases that could mean big changes in federal affirmative action law.

In Missouri, a proposed amendment allowing stem cell research got through on a very narrow majority. It had been a factor in the crucial Senate race there and it got national attention after actor Michael J. Fox, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease, appeared in a controversial campaign advertisement supporting it.

Conservatives hoped the same-sex marriage bans might increase turnout for Republicans. Democrats looked for a boost from low-income voters turning out on behalf of measures to raise the state minimum wage in six states. The wage hike passed in Arizona, Missouri, Montana, Ohio and Nevada; results were pending in Colorado.