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Same Sex Marriage on the Ballot

Same-Sex Marriage and Domestic Partnerships on the Ballot

Father and son with tattoosUpdated Nov. 7, 2012, 5:10am MST

Overview

It was a big night for same-sex marriage, with voters in four states voting in favor of the issue.

The majority of previous statewide votes on the issue of marriage has sought to define marriage as between one man and one woman, effectively prohibiting same-sex marriage. Between 1998 and 2012, there were 31 votes in 30 states on this issue, and in all but one case, voters agreed to limit marriage to opposite-sex couples. The single exception was in Arizona, where in 2006 voters rejected a same-sex marriage ban. However, Arizona voters went on to approve a ban in the 2008 election. In November 2012, Minnesota was the 31st state to consider a constitutional provision limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples, and they rejected their proposed ban.

Marriage issues have appeared on the ballot in slightly different forms as well. In 1998, Hawaii voted to give the Legislature the right to define marriage, and after the passage of the ballot question, the Legislature moved to define marriage as between a man and a woman in state law. In Maine, voters were asked in 2009 whether they wanted to uphold or reject a law passed by the Legislature that legalized same-sex marriage; voters rejected that law (they will consider a new proposal to legalize same-sex marriage in November 2012). And in also 2009, Washington voters were asked to weigh in on a law passed by the Legislature to legalize domestic partnerships. Washington is the only state where voters have agreed to extend these rights to same-sex couples; until 2012, no state had approved the legalization of same-sex marriage.


Same-Sex Marriage on the 2012 Ballot

Key Ballot Measures

Marriage, a perennial issue on statewide ballots over the past decade, was back before voters again in 2012. It was on the ballot in four states in November 2012, with several new spins on this old theme this year. Marriage appeared on the primary ballot in North Carolina, where voters approved a constitutional definition of marriage as between one man and one woman in May 2012. The states that voted on marriage in 2012 were:

  • Maine: Voters approved an initiative legalizing same-sex marriage. This was the first time a state's voters had been directly asked to legalize same-sex marriage, rather than prohibit it.
  • Maryland: Voters approved a new law legalizing same-sex marriage. The legislature had passed this law, but opponents qualified a popular referendum in an attempt to block its implementation.
  • Minnesota: Voters rejected a legislatively-referred same-sex marriage ban. This question was similar to those that have appeared on the ballot in 30 other states since 1998.
  • North Carolina: Voters approved a same-sex marriage ban in May 2012. The "yes" vote was 61.1%, the lowest affirmative vote ever received by a same-sex marriage ban in a southern state.
  • Washington: Like Maryland, Washington had a popular referendum on the ballot that sought to overturn a new law legalizing same-sex marriage. Voters rejected this move and approved the legislature's bill legalizing same-sex marriage. Vote returns won't be complete in Washington until at least a week after the election, but the "yes" vote stands at a solid 52% on Wednesday morning.

Petitions dealing with marriage were circulated in at least five other states--California, Colorado, Florida, Nebraska, and Ohio--but failed to gather sufficient signatures to reach the November 2012 ballot. In a break from the established historical pattern on this issue, all of these petitions sought to either legalize same-sex marriage or repeal an existing ban on it.

A New Spin on an Old Idea
Just one of this November's crop of marriage issues -- Minnesota's -- followed the pattern established over the past decade of asking voters to insert into the state constitution a definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman. The other three issues diffeedr considerably.

  • In Maryland and Washington, legislatures recently passed laws legalizing same-sex marriage. The questions on the ballot in these two states sought to block these new laws. They used a device called the popular referendum, available in 23 states, which permits opponents of a new law to veto it through a popular vote. In both states, the "yes" vote on November 6 had the effect of approving the legislatures' move to legalize same-sex marriage. If voters had voted "no," the new laws passed by the legislature would have been effectively vetoed and would not have taken effect.

  • In Maine, voters faced a question asking them to legalize same-sex marriage in their state, and they said "yes." No state's voters had been asked this question in quite this way before. It was only three years ago, in November 2009, that Maine voters overturned a law passed by the legislature legalizing same-sex marriage. The Maine situation in 2009 was identical to what happened in Maryland and Washington this year, although the outcome was different this time in those two states.

Attitudes Toward Same-Sex Marriage

There was another major change in the issue of same-sex marriage leading into this year's election, and that was voter opinion. Both national and state-specific polls on same-sex marriage indicated that voter opinion has shifted significantly over the past decade, and NCSL data on voter behavior supported that conclusion. In other words, the handwriting was on the wall well before November 6, and voters proved pollsters correct on Election Day.

  • The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has polled Americans regularly concerning their attitude toward same-sex marriage since 2001. Back in 2001, Americans were opposed to same-sex marriage by a margin of 57 percent to 35 percent. Fast-forward to 2012, and those numbers had shifted dramatically:  48 percent said they favor same-sex marriage, while 44 percent opposed it.

  • State-specific polls in three of the four states with marriage on the 2012 ballot indicated that a majority of voters in those states supported same-sex marriage in advance of Election Day:
    • Maine:  A poll conducted in mid-September found that 57 percent support the legalization of same-sex marriage, while 36 percent oppose it.
    • Maryland: A late-September poll by the Baltimore Sun found support for same-sex marriage at 49 percent, with 39 percent opposed.
    • Minnesota: A Star-Tribune poll conducted in mid-September found that 49 percent of voters planned to vote "yes" on the same-sex marriage prohibition, while 47 percent opposed it, results which fall within the poll's 3.5% margine of error.
    • Washington: A mid-September poll by Survey USA found that 56 percent of voters favor supporting the legislature's law legalizing same-sex marriage, while 38 percent opposite.

Two of these four polls indicated that voters were likely to approve same-sex marriage on November 6. Minnesota's poll was in a statistical tie, while the ten percent of voters who remained undecided in Maryland decided the fate of same-sex marriage in that state. If any of these four states had approved same-sex marriage on Election Day, that would have been a first in our nation's history. The fact that all four did is a strong signal that attidudes have changed.

NCSL data also supported the idea that voter attitudes toward same-sex marriage were changing going into Election Day 2012:  the strength of the "yes" vote for banning same-sex marriage peaked in 2005, with a multi-state average of 73.1 percent of voters saying "yes" to a same-sex marriage ban. The "yes" vote has consistently lost strength since 2005, falling to 63.9 percent in 2006, 56.8 percent in 2008, and 52.9 percent in 2009. Read the full analysis of voter behavior on same-sex marriage on the Prop 50 Blog.

In short, leading into Election Day, all signs pointed toward a major change in voter attitudes toward same-sex marriage, and those signs played out in four states approving the issue.
 


Statewide Votes on Same-Sex Marriage, 1998 - Present

State

Year

Measure #

Topic Area

Typea

CA/Sb

Pass/Fail

Alabama

2006

Amendment 1

Definition of marriage

L

CA

Pass

Alaska

1998

Measure 2

Definition of marriage

L

CA

Pass

Arizona

2006

Prop. 107

Definition of marriage

I

CA

Fail

Arizona

2008

Prop. 102

Definition of marriage

L

CA

Pass

Arkansas

2004

Amendment 3

Definition of marriage

I

CA

Pass

California

2000

Prop. 22

Definition of marriage

I

S

Pass

California

2008

Proposition 8

Definition of marriage

I

CA

Pass

Colorado

2006

Amend. 43

Definition of marriage

I

CA

Pass

Florida

2008

Amendment 2

Definition of marriage

I

CA

Pass

Georgia

2004

Amendment 1

Definition of marriage

L

CA

Pass

Hawaii

1998

Question 2

Give legislature right to define marriage

L

CA

Pass

Idaho

2006

HJR 2

Definition of marriage

L

CA

Pass

Kansas

2005

Amendment

Definition of marriage

L

CA

Pass

Kentucky

2004

Amendment

Definition of marriage

L

CA

Pass

Louisiana

2004

Amendment 1

Definition of marriage

L

CA

Pass

Maine

2009

Question 1

Reject the legalization of same-sex marriage

PR

S

Pass

Maine

2012

Question 1

Legalize same-sex marriage

I

S

Pass

Maryland

2012

Question 6

Legalize same-sex marriage

PR

S

Pass

Michigan

2004

Proposal 2

Definition of marriage

I

CA

Pass

Minnesota

2012

Amendment 1

Definition of marriage

L

CA

Fail

Mississippi

2004

Amendment 1

Definition of marriage

L

CA

Pass

Missouri

2004

Amendment 2

Definition of marriage

L

CA

Pass

Montana

2004

CI-96

Definition of marriage

I

CA

Pass

Nebraska

2000

Initiative 416

Definition of marriage

I

CA

Pass

Nevada

2002

Question 2

Definition of marriage

I

CA

Pass

North Carolina

2012

Amendment 1

Definition of marriage

L

CA

Pass

North Dakota

2004

ICM 1

Definition of marriage

I

CA

Pass

Ohio

2004

Issue 1

Definition of marriage

I

CA

Pass

Oklahoma

2004

Question 711

Definition of marriage

L

CA

Pass

Oregon

2004

Measure 36

Definition of marriage

I

CA

Pass

S. Carolina

2006

Amendment 1

Definition of marriage

L

CA

Pass

South Dakota

2006

Amend. C

Definition of marriage

L

CA

Pass

Tennessee

2006

Amendment 1

Definition of marriage

L

CA

Pass

Texas

2005

Proposition 2

Definition of marriage

L

CA

Pass

Utah

2004

Amendment 3

Definition of marriage

L

CA

Pass

Virginia

2006

Amendment 1

Definition of marriage

L

CA

Pass

Washington

2009

Referendum Measure 71

Uphold a law passed by the Legislature, giving rights and responsibilities to same-sex couples

PR

S

Pass

Washington

2012

Referendum Measure 74

Legalize same-sex marriage

PR

S

Pass
(Ballots will continue to trickle in for a week)

Wisconsin

2006

Question 1

Definition of marriage

L

CA

Pass

a) Type:  L = legislative referendum

                I = citizen-initiated

                PR = popular referendum (a petition-driven effort to overturn a law passed by the legislature)

b) CA = constitutional amendment

     S = statutory

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