Elated by an 11-for-11 rejection of gay marriage in state elections, conservatives Wednesday urged Congress to follow suit by approving a federal constitutional amendment that would extend the prohibition nationwide.
The state victories "are a prelude to the real battle," said Matt Daniels, whose Alliance for Marriage (search) has pushed for congressional action. "Ultimately, only our Federal Marriage Amendment will protect marriage."
Gay activists, though dejected by the overwhelming rebuff, vowed to keep fighting in the courts for marriage rights. Several lawsuits are pending, and more are planned.
Matt Foreman of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (search) described the election results as "a right hook to the chin ... but certainly not a knockout." Said Oregon activist Roey Thorpe, "On the road to equality and freedom there are always setbacks."
Oregon represented gay-rights groups' best hope for victory, but an amendment banning same-sex marriage prevailed there with 57 percent of the votes, leaving some activists in tears. Similar bans won by larger margins in Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Ohio and Utah.
More than 20 million Americans voted on the measures, which triumphed overall by a 2-to-1 ratio. In the four Southern states, the amendments received at least three-quarters of the votes, including 86 percent in Mississippi; the closest outcome besides Oregon was in Michigan, where the ban got 59 percent.
Conservative leaders depicted the result as a nationwide repudiation of the November 2003 ruling by the high court in Massachusetts legalizing same-sex marriage there. No other state has followed suit.
"Christians here and around the nation consider this a great victory for the institution of marriage," said Rod Parsley, pastor of World Harvest Church in Columbus, Ohio. "We had to stand up and say 'Enough is enough.'"
Robert Knight of the conservative Culture and Family Institute said the results should motivate Congress to reconsider a federal constitutional amendment banning gay marriage — a measure which earlier this year failed to get the needed two-thirds support in the House and Senate because of strong Democratic opposition.
"Historically, amendments to the constitution only happen after consensus is reached — they don't get passed when conflict is raging," Knight said. "But now we're moving quickly toward consensus. A lot of Democrats may have a change of heart."
Activists on both sides say the state amendments approved Tuesday — and similar measures adopted previously in six other states — guard against state court rulings like the one in Massachusetts. However, the newly approved bans could be overturned by a U.S. Supreme Court decision that cited the federal Constitution, which is why conservatives want an anti-gay amendment passed by Congress.
Lawsuits seeking marriage rights or challenging bans on same-sex marriage have been filed in Oregon, Nebraska, Washington, California, New York and New Jersey. Georgia's newly approved ban will be challenged soon by lawyers contending that the measure's ballot summary did not convey its potentially sweeping impact on same-sex couples.
Lambda Legal, which is involved in many of the lawsuits, urged gay couples to turn to the courts only if there was a reasonable chance of victory.
"We'll discourage additional litigation if it runs a serious risk of resulting in a loss that could set us back many years," Lambda Legal attorney David Buckel said in a strategy memo.
While the amendments in Mississippi, Montana and Oregon deal only with marriage, the measures in the other eight states also ban civil unions.
According to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, there are roughly 2 million people in those states who live in households headed by same-sex couples and could be harmed by the amendments — including state university employees whose domestic partnership benefits could be in jeopardy in Michigan, Ohio and Utah.
Despite losing the marriage votes, gay-rights groups found a few heartening election results.
In Massachusetts, despite conservative efforts to unseat them, all incumbent legislators who supported equal treatment for same-sex couples won re-election. In Cincinnati, the nation's only city with a ban on laws supporting gay rights, voters repealed that 1993 measure.
Idaho and North Carolina voters elected their first openly gay legislators, and an openly gay Hispanic woman, Lupe Valdez, was elected county sheriff in Dallas.