States Weigh Gay Marriage, Other Sensitive Issues Same-sex marriage and abortion were among the hot-button issues addressed on some state ballots Tuesday. Voters in 36 states weighed 153 measures, ranging from affirmative action to assisted suicide. Most initiatives were decided by Wednesday.
NPR logo States Weigh Gay Marriage, Other Sensitive Issues

States Weigh Gay Marriage, Other Sensitive Issues

NPR's John McChesney talks with Renee Montagne on 'Morning Edition'

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Same-sex marriage and abortion were among the hot-button issues addressed on some state ballots Tuesday. Voters in 36 states weighed 153 measures, ranging from affirmative action to assisted suicide. Most initiatives had been decided by Wednesday.

Same-Sex Marriage

In California, voters adopted a constitutional amendment outlawing gay marriage, overturning the state Supreme Court decision that gave same-sex couples the right to marry. The outcome calls into question the marriages of thousands of couples who married since the court's ruling in May. Experts have said the issue of whether those marriages are valid will have to be resolved in court.

On Wednesday, gay legal groups filed a petition asking the California high court to invalidate Proposition 8 on the grounds that voters lacked the authority to change state law. The Associated Press reported that two women who were married in the state earlier this year plan to sue on the grounds that the amendment violates their right to equal protection under the law.

The proposition was the nation's most expensive social-issue ballot measure ever. Proponents and opponents spent a total of $74 million.

Three other states had propositions dealing with same-sex marriage. Arizona and Florida passed amendments to their state constitutions banning it. Arkansas voters approved a measure that would make it unlawful for unmarried couples to adopt children; proponents said it was aimed at gay couples.


In two states — South Dakota and Colorado — voters rejected ballot measures that would have banned or restricted abortion, but an initiative in California remained undecided early Wednesday.

In South Dakota, voters for the second time rejected a proposed law that would have banned most abortions. The latest measure would have permitted abortion only in cases of rape, incest or serious threats to the mother's health. South Dakota voters rejected a more restrictive measure in 2006.

"The lesson here is that Americans, in states across the country, clearly support women's ability to access abortion care without government interference," said Vicki Saporta, president of the National Abortion Federation.

Colorado voters rejected a measure that defined life as beginning at conception, which would have made abortion illegal. Its opponents said the proposal could lead to the outlawing of some types of birth control as well as abortion.

A California measure that requires a doctor to notify parents before a minor can receive an abortion was trailing early Wednesday. The measure also would require a 48-hour waiting period. Voters defeated similar measures in 2005 and 2006.

Assisted Suicide Allowed

Washington became the second state in the nation to allow terminally ill people the option of physician-assisted suicide, with voters approving a measure patterned after Oregon's "Death with Dignity" law.

The Washington measure requires that two doctors reach an independent assessment that a patient has less than six months to live before that person can receive a lethal prescription. Oregon voters passed a similar measure 11 years ago; it was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2006.

Affirmative Action

A measure in Nebraska passed that would end affirmative action. Similar measures were passed previously in California, Washington and Michigan, despite opposition by leaders of both parties. Returns on a measure banning affirmative action in Colorado are still too close to call.

Marijuana Decriminalization

In Massachusetts, voters decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana. Now, people caught with an ounce or less of pot will no longer face criminal penalties. Instead, they'll forfeit the marijuana and pay a $100 civil fine.

In Michigan, voters legalized marijuana for medical purposes. The measure will allow severely ill patients to register with the state and legally buy, grow and use small amounts of marijuana to relieve pain, nausea, appetite loss and other symptoms.

Animal Rights

California has passed a measure that would provide minimum living space for farm animals, including calves, chickens and pregnant pigs. Voters in Florida and Arizona recently approved similar legislation. The California initiative was opposed most strongly by chicken farmers, who said the inclusion of egg-laying chickens would increase imports from Mexico, leading to more salmonella outbreaks and higher egg prices.

In Massachusetts, voters approved a ban on greyhound racing, which will force the state's two greyhound tracks to close by Jan. 1, 2010. Supporters argued that the racing is inhumane and that the dogs are routinely injured during races, with broken legs, paralysis and even death from cardiac arrest.


Massachusetts voters rejected an initiative that would have eliminated the state income tax over the next two years. A similar measure nearly passed two years ago, so opponents mustered a strong campaign this year. The state government derives nearly 40 percent of its budget from the income tax, and Massachusetts stood to lose $12 billion in funding if the measure had passed.