Distracted by the historic victory of Barack Obama which may usher in a new era of American politics, election watchers have mostly missed the devastating defeats which went hand in hand with that triumph. As Obama is ushered into office on a groundswell of support for change, there is a grim reminder that not all change is for the better.
In Arizona voters passed proposition 102 which will amend the state constitution to ban gay marriage. In Florida a constitutional ban on gay marriage passed with a substantial 62% majority. It now looks likely that California’s controversial Proposition 8 will pass narrowly, reversing court-mandated gay marriage rights in California and banning gay marriage statewide, despite opposition from the state’s Republican governor and many prominent GOP leaders. And in Arkansas a measure passed banning not only gay adoption, but also adoption and fostering by single individuals. In a similar failure of civil rights initiatives, a proposition in the city election for San Francisco which would have decriminalized prostitution also failed.
These troubling new laws circumscribing civil rights in states in which Obama had a stronger than expected showing would not have passed without substantial support from Democrats. In fact, it is most likely that religious African American voters who turned out in large numbers for Obama swung the tide in favor of limiting marriage rights for same-sex couples in an ironic contrast to the struggle for interracial marriage rights in the early days of the civil rights movement.
Not all of the down-ballot issues turned out so badly. Initiatives to decriminalize marijuana passed in both Michigan and Massachusetts, plus harsh measures restricting abortion rights were defeated in South Dakota and Colorado. Also encouraging was Arizona voters’ strong turnout against a draconian measure which would have revoked the business licenses of companies hiring illegal workers.
It was the highest profile issues which fared the worst with voters, a distressing reminder that change comes at many levels and it’s not all for the better.