In a resounding, coast-to-coast rejection of gay marriage, voters in 11 states approved constitutional amendments Tuesday limiting marriage to one man and one woman.
The amendments won, often by huge margins, in Arkansas (search), Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Ohio, Utah and Oregon — the one state where gay-rights activists hoped to prevail. The bans won by a 3-to-1 margin in Kentucky, Georgia and Arkansas, 3-to-2 in Ohio, and 6-to-1 in Mississippi.
"This issue does not deeply divide America," said conservative activist Gary Bauer (search). "The country overwhelmingly rejects same-sex marriage, and our hope is that both politicians and activist judges will read these results and take them to heart."
Gay rights leaders were dismayed by the results but declared that their struggle for marriage equality would continue unabated.
"Fundamental human rights should never be put up for a popular vote," said Matt Foreman (search) of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. "We'll win some states and we'll lose some states, but eventually the Supreme Court is going to look at the Bill of Rights and isn't going to give a damn what's in any of these state constitutions."
In Georgia, Ohio and Mississippi, gay-rights activists were considering court challenges of the newly approved amendments. But supporters of the bans were jubilant.
"I've said all along that this crossed party lines, color lines and socio-economic lines," said Sadie Fields of the Georgia Christian Coalition. "The people in this state realized that we're talking about the future of our country here."
Conservatives had expected for weeks that the amendments would prevail in at least 10 of the states, thus demonstrating widespread public disapproval of the Massachusetts court ruling a year ago that legalized gay marriage there. National and local gay-rights groups campaigned vigorously in Oregon, where polls had showed a close race, but they failed to prevent a sweep.
None of the 11 states allow gay marriage now, though officials in Portland, Ore., married more than 2,900 same-sex couples last year before a judge halted the practice.
"It feels like a death," said Kelly Burke, 35, of the amendment's passage in Oregon. She is a stay-at-home mother who began receiving health care coverage for the first time after she wed electrician Dolores Doyle, her lesbian partner of 15 years, in Portland last March.
The amendments in Mississippi, Montana and Oregon refer only to marriage, specifying that it should be limited to unions of one man and one woman. The measures in Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma and Utah call for a ban on civil unions as well.
The Ohio measure, considered the broadest of the 11 because it barred any legal status that "intends to approximate marriage," gathered equal support from men and women, blacks and whites.
In five of the states, legislators placed the proposed amendments on the ballots, while in the six others — Arkansas, Michigan, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio and Oregon — the measures were advanced by conservative, church-backed citizens groups that collected signatures on petitions.
Already this year, voters in Missouri and Louisiana have weighed in on the issue, with gay-marriage-ban amendments winning more than 70 percent of the vote in both states.
Louisiana's amendment was later struck down in state court on the grounds that it improperly dealt with more than one subject by banning not only same-sex marriage but also any legal recognition of common-law relationships, domestic partnerships and civil unions. The court challenge in Georgia involves a similar argument.
Conservatives say they will continue to press for a federal constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, on the premise that even toughly worded bans in state constitutions could be overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Gay-rights activists, meanwhile, will continue pressing marriage-rights lawsuits in states such as Oregon, California and New Jersey, where they believe the high courts might eventually rule in their favor.