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State Ballot Initiatives Take on Social Issues

Voters in South Dakota turned down a ban on abortion that was intended to force the U.S. Supreme Court to reopen a landmark 1973 ruling that established a woman’s right to choose, Missourians narrowly passed a constitutional amendment protecting embryonic stem cell research, while Arizona became the first state to reject a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

A total of 205 measures were on ballots in 37 states, ranging from mundane matters to some of <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />America’s most divisive social issues.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
 
South Dakota voters defeated a referendum on a ban of nearly all abortions signed by Republican Gov. Mike Rounds in March. The law was designed to set up conflict with the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision establishing abortion as a woman’s right and prod the U.S. Supreme Court into reconsidering that decision. The South Dakota law would have allowed abortions only to save the life of a pregnant woman, without exceptions for cases of rape or incest.
 
Another vote closely watched by the faith community was a proposed amendment to the Missouri constitution protecting research using embryonic stem cells.
 
Conservative religious groups, including the Missouri Baptist Convention, opposed the measure, claiming it would permit cloning. Some moderate faith leaders and celebrity spokesmen including actor Michael J. Fox, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease, said medical research is needed to treat presently incurable diseases, some of which disproportionately afflict minorities and the poor.
 
With 98 percent of the vote counted Wednesday morning, the amendment was passing 51 percent to 49 percent.
 
Fallout over the Ted Haggard scandal apparently did not turn the tide for two ballot initiatives in Colorado involving same-sex couples.
 
Colorado voted to amend its constitution to define marriage as only a union between one man and one woman. Voters, meanwhile, rejected a referendum legalizing domestic partnerships, which would have provided same-sex couples the same legal protections and responsibilities granted to married couples.
 
A man claiming to be a male prostitute said last week he went public about an alleged three-year relationship with the fallen head of the National Association of Evangelicals after learning his true identity and that he was a vocal opponent of gay marriage.
 
Overall, however, proponents of gay marriage said the issue is gaining ground.
 
“Two years ago we had 11 of these on the ballot, and in only two of them did we do better than 40 percent,” Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said in Reuters. “This year there were eight and in at least five of them we did better than 40 percent.”
 
Breaking a string of 27 states approving marriage amendments, Arizona became the first to reject a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman. The law, which also would have prohibited the state from recognizing same-sex civil union, appeared headed for failure early today, behind 49 percent to 51 percent with 99 percent of the vote reported.
 
Idaho, Virginia, South Carolina, Tennessee and Wisconsin approved new constitutional amendments banning gay marriage.
 
Wisconsin, Missouri, Montana and Colorado all approved raising the minimum wage.
 
Arizona passed a measure making English the state’s official language, a reaction against illegal immigration.
 
Ohio voters rejected an amendment legalizing slot machines at nine venues, including seven existing racetracks. About a third of the revenue generated from slot machines was to be used for education.
 
Rhode Island voters rejected a constitutional amendment that would have allowed the Narragansett Indian Tribe and Las Vegas-based Harrah’s Entertainment to build a casino, after the Republican governor raised concerns it would draw business away from two existing gambling facilities, which pay the state 60 percent of their income.
 
Gambling foes took a hit in South Dakota, where voters by a 2-1 margin refused to repeal the state’s approval of video lottery games, which generate $112 million a year in state revenue.
 
Nevada and Colorado both rejected measures that would have legalized possession of small amounts of marijuana by adults over 21. South Dakota refused to allow use of marijuana even for medical reasons.
 
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.