November 8, 2006

Split State Decisions on "Culture War" Issues

by Robert Ruby, Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life
November 8, 2006

Voters in South Dakota on Tuesday rejected what would have been the nation’s most restrictive law against abortion, and Arizona became the first state to defeat a ballot initiative to ban same-sex marriage.

Of the eight states where bans on gay marriage were on the ballot, Arizona was the only state to vote “no.” Gay marriage bans were approved in Colorado, Idaho, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin. Arizona voters defeated a proposal that would have defined marriage as being between a man and a woman by a margin of 51 percent to 49 percent.

The vote in South Dakota overturned a measure approved by the legislature and signed by the governor earlier this year that would have banned abortions except to save the life of the mother. The legislature and the governor saw the law as a direct challenge to the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade protecting a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy.

“These results tell us very different things,” said John C. Green, senior fellow in religion and American politics at the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

“The South Dakota provision reveals that even in a conservative state, a very strict limit on abortion is not acceptable,” Green said. “There was some real resistance to what is seen as too extensive a restriction on abortion.”

The votes on the gay marriage bans show a similar pattern, Green said. “What this suggests is that overall, across the United States, Americans still tend to support the traditional definition of marriage,” Green said. “But in one surprising place, voters were unwilling to go that far. It’s like a team that’s no longer unbeaten.”

Here are the results of some of the most contested state ballot measures on issues related to religion and public life, as tracked by Stateline.org:

Abortion

South Dakota voters defeated the strict abortion ban aimed at setting up a legal challenge to Roe v. Wade, 56 percent to 44 percent. The new state measure would have made it a felony for anyone to help a woman end her pregnancy except in cases necessary to save the life of the mother.

In Oregon, voters defeated a measure that would have required teenage girls to notify a parent before getting an abortion, 54 percent to 46 percent. In California, a similar measure was defeated by the same 54 percent to 46 percent margin. Thirty-five states already require teenage girls to notify a parent before getting an abortion. Both initiatives would have required doctors to notify parents at least 48 hours before performing the procedure.

Gay Marriage

Voters in Colorado, Idaho, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin approved amendments to their state constitutions to ban gay marriage. Arizona defeated a similar measure.

President Bush and other Republicans had criticized a recent New Jersey Supreme Court ruling saying the state constitution required lawmakers to provide equal legal rights for gays, either through civil unions or same-sex marriage.

Twenty states already have adopted similar constitutional same-sex marriage bans, and, until the defeat of the Arizona measure, no state had ever voted one down

In addition to approving a ban on gay marriage, Coloradans rejected a separate bid to extend marital rights to same-sex couples through “domestic partnerships.”

Minimum Wage

Voters in Arizona, Missouri, Montana, Nevada and Ohio approved by large margins measures to increase the minimum wage in their states above the federally mandated $5.15 an hour.

More than 20 other states have already set their minimum wages higher than the federal level. National polls show voters of both parties roundly support minimum-wage increases. But in the political arena, Democrats have spearheaded moves to boost the minimum wage.

Democrats claim the higher pay alleviates poverty, while Republicans who oppose the hikes say government-mandated pay raises hurt the local economy and endanger jobs.

Stem Cell Research

Missouri voters narrowly approved a measure that would ensure the legality of embryonic stem-cell research in the state, after several unsuccessful attempts by Missouri lawmakers to ban those studies. The measure passed 51 percent to 49 percent.

Supporters of the measure touted its potential for leading to life-saving cures, as well as its economic benefits. Opponents argued that the research ends human life, because it requires the destruction of human embryos. Since President Bush restricted federal funding for the research in 2001, six other states have moved to support the science.