Conservative activists want to apply the same formula used to outlaw same-sex marriage in California to stop other states from recognizing gay unions and President-elect Obama from expanding gay rights.
Leaders of the successful Proposition 8 campaign say an unusual coalition of evangelical Christians, Mormons and Roman Catholics built a majority at the polls Tuesday by harnessing the organizational muscle of churches to a message about what schoolchildren might be taught about gay relationships if the ban failed.
Same-sex marriage bans also won in Arizona and Florida. But in California, the coalition overcame opposition from the political establishment and assumptions on how voters in the famously tolerant state would respond to revoking rights the state's high court had granted this spring.
“Everyone told me it could not be done, people do not care about this enough, you will be overwhelmed, and you will lose,” said Maggie Gallagher, executive director of the National Organization for Marriage, a New Jersey group that provided seed money to qualify the measure for the ballot.
“This is an issue people care about when they understand what is at stake and we mount a vigorous and visible defense of marriage,” Gallagher said.
Same-sex couples are expected to start marrying next week in Connecticut, the third state after Massachusetts and California where courts have held it was unconstitutional to bar same-sex couples from marrying.
Unlike California, Connecticut has no initiative process that would let voters override the judicial decision there. So Gallagher said anti-gay marriage groups plan to focus next on New Jersey and New York, where legislatures are being lobbied to pass laws legalizing same-sex marriage.
The plan is to mobilize the same factions that joined forces in California to deter lawmakers from “taking on this divisive social issue while we are in the middle of a huge financial crisis,” Gallagher said.
Success was attributed to the churches, which served as voter registration centers, phone banks and volunteer recruitment hubs. Religious institutions also enabled access to a range of ethnic voters, including many Democrats, said Mat Staver, who heads the Florida-based Christian legal group Liberty Counsel.
Catholic and evangelical Hispanics and African American Baptists stood with conservative white evangelicals in arguing for traditional marriage. Exit polls showed 70percent of blacks supported the ban, a far higher percentage than any other race.
“This is an issue that … transcends political ideology, religious affiliations, races and time and history,” said Staver. “It brings people together who ordinarily wouldn't be sitting at the same table together.”
Gay-right activists attribute their loss in California in large part to overconfidence among Proposition 8 opponents. Polls showed the measure far behind in mid-September, but the Yes-on-8 campaign was raising far more money than its foes.