Same-Sex Marriage on the 2008 Ballot


Same-Sex Marriage on the 2008 Ballot


November 6, 2008, Jennie Drage Bowser
Ballot Measures Overview
2008 Ballot Measures Results



Same-sex marriage exploded onto the elections scene in November 2004, when eleven states voted on constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage.  These votes followed two votes earlier in 2004 on the issue, bringing the total number of states voting on same-sex marriage in 2004 to 13.

The issue rose the national level following a pair of Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court cases upholding marriage for same-sex couples in that state.  Massachusetts began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in May 2004.  The national attention to the Massachusetts case soon overflowed to other cases and sparked both petition drives for citizen initiatives and action in state legislatures to put constitutional amendments on the ballot.

This issue has drawn significant debate and scholarly research into the question of whether ballot measures can influence voter turnout.  While it's clear that the presence of a controversial initiative on the ballot can increase voter turnout in general by a few points, it is less clear whether ballot measures can influence who turns out to vote.

The Ohio 2004 election is often cited as an example of how this might happen.  In Ohio in 2004, President Bush narrowly won the presidential race, garnering 51 percent of the vote.  That year, there was just one measure on the statewide ballot in Ohio -- a same-sex marriage ban.  The presence of this issue on the ballot has been widely credited by the media for causing an increase in voter turnout among conservatives who were motivated to vote against same-sex marriage, and at the same time cast a vote for Bush and moved him to the "win" column in the presidential election. 

Whether ballot measures work this way is not entirely clear, and studies are conflicting.  In any case, there is no state this year that has a single, highly controversial and polarizing measure on the ballot this year that could galvanize voters on one side of the political spectrum or the other.  Instead, most states face either no issues at all, or multiple issues representing ideas that are liberal, conservative and neutral.  In such cases, it seems any influence on voter turnout by one measure might be canceled out by the influence of another. 


What's on the ballot this year?

Three states will vote on same-sex marriage this November.  An additional measure related to gay rights is on the ballot in a fourth state -- Arkansas voters will consider whether unmarried couples, including same-sex couples, should be prohibited from adopting or serving as foster parents.




Gay Rights Measures on the 2008 Ballot



Measure #

Topic Area





Prop. 102






Initiative Act 1

Prohibition on adoption & foster by unmarried couples





Prop. 8






Amendment 2





a)  Type: L = legislative referendum
              I = citizen-initiated

b)  CA = constitutional amendment
       S = statutory

How does this compare to previous years?

29 states have voted on same-sex marriage bans since 1998.  Just one state -- Arizona -- has voted "no" so far.  Summaries are available for the same-sex marriage votes in 2004 and 2006.

In 2005, Kansas and Texas voters passed same-sex marriage bans.

Prior to the 2004 elections, just a handful of states had voted on same-sex marriage -- Alaska and Hawaii in 1998, California and Nebraska in 2000, and Nevada in 2002.  Note that California's 2000 vote was to approve a statute banning same-sex marriage, not a constitutional amendment.  All of the other state votes have been to approve constitutional amendments.  California's law has since been overruled by the California Supreme Court, and voters will have a chance to weigh in again on a proposed constitutional amendment this year.  If passed, this year's proposed amendment would trump the court's ruling, once again making same-sex marriage illegal in California.

Links to More NCSL Information

Same-Sex Marriage and Domestic Partnerships

Contacts for More Information


Wendy Underhill, NCSL contact for ballot measures
Christine Nelson, NCSL contact for marriage information

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