WASHINGTON — In a razor-thin outcome, California voters overturned same-sex marriage rights in the nation’s most populous state, as similar bans on gay marriage were approved in Arizona and Florida.
The verdicts by voters in three large and growing states will likely put the brakes — at least temporarily — on gay groups’ march toward civil marriage rights.
The three measures were a stunning defeat for same-sex marriage proponents, and showed conservatives’ continued ability to flood the polls to prevent — or in California’s case, overturn — court-ordered gay marriages.
Observers say the fight may now shift away from the courts to state legislatures because voters have shown little appetite for courts that mandate equal protection for gay and straight couples.
“We are grateful to have reclaimed for traditional marriage what activist judges took away from the people of California when they began allowing same-sex marriage back in May,” said Jim Garlow, pastor of Skyline Church in San Diego and supporter of the grassroots “Protect Marriage” campaign.
On Nov. 5, a coalition of gay groups, led by the American Civil Liberties Union, asked the California Supreme Court to invalidate Proposition 8, saying it violates the “underlying principles” of the constitutional guarantees of equal protection.
Thousands of same-sex couples rushed to the altar to wed in California after the state Supreme Court overturned a 2000 voter referendum that defined marriage between one man and one woman.
Close to $73 million in donations from both in-state and across the country was spent by opponents and supporters of California’s Proposition 8, which amends the state’s constitution to define marriage solely between a man and a woman.
The campaign pitted church leaders and some evangelical groups against civil rights activists, other religious leaders, and even celebrities and corporations. Apple Inc. and Google Inc. both donated at least $100,000 to the “No on 8” campaign, while the Mormon Church was one of the biggest backers and fundraisers for the proposition, pouring in millions of dollars.
Campaign ads became as controversial as an 11th-hour commercial released by an anti-Proposition 8 group called Courage Coalition depicted two Mormon missionaries invading a lesbian couple’s home to confiscate their marriage license.
Advocates for gay marriage called the issue a matter of equal rights, while opponents argued same-sex couples already have domestic partnership rights.
“I believe in the long run that marriage will be recognized,” said Troy Perry, who founded the predominately gay Metropolitan Community Church in Los Angeles in 1968. “I’m not pleased, but I’m not bitter about it, I’m a Christian.”
Ron Prentice, chairman of ProtectMarriage.com and part of the “Yes on 8” movement, called it a “great day for marriage.”
“Gay and lesbian domestic partnerships will continue to enjoy the same legal rights as married spouses. Our coalition has no plans to seek any changes in that law,” Prentice said.
In Florida, voters approved an amendment to the state’s constitution that bars same-sex marriage and defines marriage as only between a man and woman. Gay marriage was already illegal in the state.
Arizona voters approved a state constitutional ban on gay marriage with 56.5 percent of the vote.
While Arizona law already prohibits gay marriage, supporters wanted to amend the state’s constitution to prevent a judicial overturn of the law. The amendment that passed was a scaled-down version of an amendment rejected by voters in Arizona two years ago.
The Alliance Defense Fund, a pro-traditional marriage group based in Scottsdale, Ariz., said the balloting in all three states demonstrated that voters wanted to preserve marriage between a man and woman.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — David Finnigan contributed to this report from Los Angeles.)