NEW ORLEANS – Louisiana (search) voters overwhelmingly approved a state constitutional amendment Saturday banning same-sex marriages and civil unions (search), one of up to 12 such measures on the ballot around the country this year.
With 99 percent of precincts reporting, the amendment was winning approval with 78 percent of the vote, and support for it was evident statewide. Only in New Orleans (search), home to a politically strong gay community, was the race relatively close, and even there the amendment was winning passage. Turnout statewide appeared to be about 27 percent of Louisiana's 2.8 million voters, somewhat low for a state election.
Christian conservatives had conducted an intense grassroots lobbying campaign for the amendment, which had been expected to pass easily. The civil rights group Forum for Equality (search) had already promised legal action against it.
"It's gratifying to see the people of Louisiana had an opportunity, as distinguished from judges, having the final say on the issue of whether traditional marriage will continue to be the fundamental institution in our state," said Darrell White, a retired state judge and consultant for Louisiana Family Forum, which pushed for the amendment.
John Rawls, a lawyer for Forum for Equality, reiterated the group's contention that the amendment does far more than stop gay marriage and that it could affect many private contracts between unmarried couples, gay or straight — a claim its supporters dispute.
"I am disappointed that so many Louisianians either did not read the amendment or are so afraid of gays that they voted for this amendment anyway," Rawls said.
Louisiana already has a law stating that marriage can be only between a man and woman, but supporters of the amendment want to protect that law in the Constitution. The amendment also would prohibit state officials and courts from recognizing out-of-state marriages and civil unions between homosexuals.
Rawls said there were many possible grounds for challenging the results in state and federal court. One appeared Saturday, when voting machines were delivered late to some New Orleans precincts, keeping some from casting ballots for hours.
State director of elections Frances Sims said at least 59 precincts did not have voting machines when polls opened because officials with New Orleans' clerk of court's office failed to meet drivers who tried to deliver the machines earlier that morning. The problem was solved by midday.
Julius Green, 58, said he went to his polling place in New Orleans' Bywater neighborhood about 10 a.m. and found no voting machines — just a crowd.
"This is ridiculous," Green said. "It makes people feel that their vote don't count."
Advocates of the amendment and its opponents agreed it will be up to the courts to decide exactly what the measure does and does not do.
Similar amendments to ban same-sex marriage are on ballots in Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon and Utah. Petitions in Ohio are still being verified.