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Gay marriage, marijuana backed in historic votes

Nov 7, 2012


How Gay Marriage Advocates Will Stop Worrying and Learn to Love the Ballot Box

By Josh Barro Nov 7, 2012 7:24 AM MT

After going 0-for-32 in states where gay marriage was on the ballot through this summer, gay marriage won in all four states where it was on the ballot last night. Gay marriage backers should get comfortable with that, as they are likely to be going to the polls a lot over the next decade.

In Maine, Maryland and Washington, gay marriage will now be legal. Minnesota voters rejected a constitutional ban on gay marriage; they also returned both houses of their legislature to Democratic majorities, so watch for legislative action on gay marriage this year.

Gay marriage supporters went from losing big to losing small and have now shown they can win at the ballot box. And societal shifts -- increasing acceptance of gays, plus old people with anti-gay attitudes dying and being replaced by accepting young voters -- mean that gay marriage will likely be able to obtain a majority vote in nearly every state within a decade.

This presents a pleasant dilemma for gay marriage advocates. For the past decade, they have made a passionate (and correct) case that gay marriage should not be subject to referendum. Minority rights should not be subjected to the will of the majority. Gays are entitled to equal marriage even over the objections of the popular will.

But what if the majority is prepared to grant those minority rights? Then a referendum goes from being an injustice to being an inconvenience -- and it will be an inconvenience gay marriage advocates will increasingly have to bear in pursuit of legalization.

In many states, there are only two available avenues to legalize gay marriage: a Supreme Court decision mandating gay marriage nationally, or a popular referendum. Gay marriage bans have been written into 30 state constitutions, and in most cases, amending the state constitution will require a popular vote.

So if the Supreme Court does not take care of the issue, gay marriage proponents will have to get used to going to the polls -- perhaps in Colorado, Nevada and Oregon, for starters. And they will have to get used to winning.

(Josh Barro is lead writer for the Ticker. E-mail him and follow him on Twitter.)

Read more breaking commentary from Josh Barro and other Bloomberg View columnists and editors at the Ticker.


Gay Marriage Gets First Ballot Wins


Americans for the first time approved gay marriage at the ballot box on Tuesday, pointing to changing attitudes on the divisive issue.

Changing Perspectives on Gay Marriage

In Maine and Maryland, voters approved ballot initiatives to begin allowing same-sex unions. Those wins mark a first for a cause that had previously been rejected by voters in more than 30 states, including as recently as 2009 in Maine.

And in Minnesota, where gay marriage is already not allowed, voters declined to back an initiative that would enshrine in the state's constitution a definition of marriage permitting only a union between a man and woman.

In Washington state, where voters also weighed an initiative to legalize gay marriage, the vote count was expected to stretch on for days. With half of the vote counted as of 3 a.m. Eastern time, nearly 52% supported the idea.

In Maine, campaigners for same-sex marriage said the win marked a turning point for their cause. "We made history here tonight and showed that voters can change their minds," said Matt McTighe, the campaign director of Mainers United for Marriage. "That will serve as something of a signal to other states who have lost marriage fights before at ballot boxes. You can change those minds."

In Maine, with 73% of the votes counted at 3 a.m. Eastern, more than 53% of the voters supported the gay-marriage initiative, the first time gay-rights groups have brought the issue to the ballot on their own terms. Although the Associated Press called the vote, opponents of the Maine measure didn't immediately concede, saying they were waiting on results from outlying areas of the state.

In Maryland, with 98% of the votes counted, nearly 52% supported gay marriage. "We're sure to feel the ripples of this monumental victory across the country for years to come," said Josh Levin, campaign manager for Marylanders for Marriage Equality.

And in Minnesota, 51% of the votes were against a gay-marriage ban in the state's constitution as of 3 a.m. Eastern. Supporters of the amendment said it was needed to prevent courts or legislatures from changing state law in the future. In May, a similar amendment passed in North Carolina with 61% voter support.

The strategy that worked in Minnesota involved "sparking authentic conversations, and making sure you start early" said Richard Carlbom, the campaign manager for Minnesotans United for All Families, which opposed the amendment.

Opponents of same-sex marriage said winning at the ballot box in strongly Democratic states like Maine doesn't prove a shift in national opinion on the issue. "Winning on your own turf is not a turning point," said Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage. "The only thing this says is that in deep blue states, gay-marriage advocates can win—barely."

In Washington, the result of a close race may not be known until the end of the week. The state has a mail-in voting system, with ballots expected to arrive over the next few days, so likely only 60% of the vote would be counted by Tuesday night, according to the Washington Secretary of State's office.

Six states plus the District of Columbia already had allowed gay marriage, but in those cases the unions were sanctioned by lawmakers or by courts, not popular votes. Maine's ballot initiative, called Question 1, stands out as the first time proponents have brought the issue to a popular vote on their own. Voters in Maryland and Washington decided whether to overturn gay-marriage laws passed by their state legislatures.

Gay-rights groups say they were emboldened to take their cause back to the ballot box by research showing American attitudes reached a turning point. A national poll by The Wall Street Journal/NBC News in March found 49% favored gay marriage, and 40% opposed it. In 2009, in the same poll found only 41% supported gay marriage, and 49% opposed it.

The wins at the ballot box, along with those in courts and legislatures, show "irrefutable momentum in favor of the freedom to marry," said Evan Wolfson, founder of national gay-rights group Freedom to Marry. "We are going to continue winning over more hearts and minds, forging the majority we have already built and continuing to win more states."

In campaigns, opponents have emphasized the benefits of traditional definitions of marriage for families and the impact of same-sex marriage on religious liberties in states that have already passed it.

In Maryland, the ballot language of the so-called Civil Marriage Protection Act anticipated some of the arguments raised by opponents of gay marriage, saying the law as passed by the legislature "protects clergy from having to perform any particular marriage ceremony in violation of their religious beliefs."

Exit polls indicated that race wasn't a deciding factor on the issue in Maryland. While some black churches publicly opposed gay marriage, exit polls found black voters were split on the issue, according to the Associated Press. White Marylanders were slightly more likely to vote in favor of gay marriage.

The Maryland initiative's largest base of support came among voters under the age of 29, the Associated Press reported.

A version of this article appeared November 7, 2012, on page A17 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Gay Marriage Gets First Ballot Wins.


Gay marriage, marijuana backed in historic votes

10:20 AM, November 7, 2012


Associated Press

Altering the course of U.S social policy, Maine and Maryland became the first states to approve same-sex marriage by popular vote, while Washington state and Colorado set up a showdown with federal authorities by legalizing recreational use of marijuana.

The outcomes for those ballot measures Tuesday were a milestone for persistent but often thwarted advocacy groups and activists who for decades have pressed the causes of gay rights and drug decriminalization.

"Today the state of Washington looked at 70 years of marijuana prohibition and said it's time for a new approach," said Alison Holcomb, manager of the campaign that won passage of Initiative 502 in Washington.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat who opposed legalization, was less enthused. "Federal law still says marijuana is an illegal drug, so don't break out the Cheetos or Goldfish too quickly," he said.

The results in Maine and Maryland broke a 32-state streak, dating to 1998, in which gay marriage had been rebuffed by every state that voted on it. They will become the seventh and eighth states to allow same-sex couples to marry.

In another gay-rights victory, Minnesota voters defeated a proposed constitutional amendment that would banned same-sex marriage in the state. Similar measures were approved in 30 other states, most recently in North Carolina in May.

"The tide has turned — when voters have the opportunity to really hear directly from loving, committed same-sex couples and their families, they voted for fairness," said Rick Jacobs of the Courage Campaign, a California-based gay rights group. "Those who oppose the freedom to marry for committed couples are clearly on the wrong side of history."

Washington state also voted on a measure to legalize same-sex marriage, though results were not expected until today at the soonest.

The outcomes of the marriage votes could influence the U.S. Supreme Court, which will soon consider whether to take up cases challenging the law that denies federal recognition to same-sex marriages. The gay-rights victories come on the heels of numerous national polls that, for the first time, show a majority of Americans supporting same-sex marriage.

Maine's referendum marked the first time that gay-rights supporters put same-sex marriage to a popular vote. They collected enough signatures to schedule the vote, hoping to reverse a 2009 referendum that quashed a gay-marriage law enacted by the Legislature.

In Maryland and Washington, gay-marriage laws were approved by lawmakers and signed by the governors this year, but opponents gathered enough signatures to challenge the laws.

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, who campaigned vigorously for the marriage measure, spoke to a jubilant crowd in Baltimore. Christopher Wold, 31, danced with his partner of four years after the result became clear. He said they would like to marry now that it's legal in Maryland.

"It feels so good to be accepted by so many people of all different backgrounds," he said. "It just feels wonderful."

The president of the most active advocacy group opposing same-sex marriage, Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage, insisted Tuesday's results did not mark a watershed moment.

"At the end of the day, we're still at 32 victories," he said. "Just because two extreme blue states vote for gay marriage doesn't mean the Supreme Court will create a constitutional right for it out of thin air."

Heading into the election, gay marriage was legal in six states and the District of Columbia — in each case the result of legislation or court orders, not by a vote of the people.

The marijuana measures in Colorado and Washington will likely pose a headache for the U.S. Justice Department and the Drug Enforcement Administration, which consider pot an illegal drug. The DOJ has declined to say how it would respond if the measures were approved.

Colorado's Amendment 64 will allow adults over 21 to possess up to an ounce of marijuana, though using the drug publicly would be banned. The amendment would allow people to grow up to six marijuana plants in a private, secure area.

Washington's measure establishes a system of state-licensed marijuana growers, processors and stores, where adults can buy up to an ounce. It also establishes a standard blood test limit for driving under the influence.

The Washington measure was notable for its sponsors and supporters, who ranged from public health experts and wealthy high-tech executives to two former top Justice Department's officials in Seattle, U.S. Attorneys John McKay and Kate Pflaumer.

"Marijuana policy reform remains an issue where the people lead and the politicians follow," said Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance, which opposes the co-called "war on drugs." ''But Washington state shows that many politicians are beginning to catch up."

Estimates show pot taxes could bring in hundreds of millions of dollars a year, but the sales won't start until state officials make rules to govern the legal weed industry.

The Washington measure was opposed by Derek Franklin, president of the Washington Association for Substance Abuse and Violence Prevention.

"Legalizing is going to increase marijuana use among kids and really create a mess with the federal government," Franklin said. "It's a bit of a tragedy for the state."

In Oregon, a marijuana-legalization measure was defeated. In Massachusetts, voters approved a measure to allow marijuana use for medical reasons, joining 17 other states. Arkansas voters rejected a similar measure.

In all, 176 measures were on the ballots Tuesday in 38 states, according to the Initiative and Referendum Institute at the University of Southern California.

Other notable results:

—In California, voters approved Gov. Jerry Brown's proposal to raise income taxes on those making more than $250,000 a year and sales taxes on everyone to help balance the state budget and avoid about $6 billion in cuts, mostly to schools. Voters rejected an attempt to curb union clout at the statehouse by limiting paycheck deductions for political activities, and defeated a proposal to require the labeling of genetically modified foods.

—Maryland voters approved a measure allowing illegal immigrants to pay in-state college tuition, provided they attended a state high school for three years and can show they filed state income tax returns during that time. About a dozen other states have similar laws, but Maryland's is the first to be approved by voters.

—In Oklahoma, voters approved a Republican-backed measure that wipes out all affirmative action programs in state government hiring, education and contracting practices. Similar steps have been taken previously in Arizona, California, Michigan, Nebraska and Washington.

—In Michigan, labor unions suffered a big loss. Voters rejected a first-of-its-kind ballot initiative that would have put collective bargaining rights in the state constitution.

Contributing to this report were Brian Witte in Annapolis, Md.; Eric Tucker in Baltimore; Md.; Nicholas K. Geranios and Gene Johnson in Seattle; Clarke Canfield in Portland, Maine, and Kristen Wyatt in Denver.


Gay Marriage, Marijuana Initiatives Make History

Maryland and Maine approve gay marriage; Colorado and Washington legalize recreational weed

By Lauren Fox

November 7, 2012

Barack Obama wasn't the only one celebrating Tuesday night. Supporters of marijuana legalization and gay marriage also saw big wins on Election Day.

Gay marriage: The LGBT community saw historic wins across the country Tuesday as voters in Maine and Maryland legalized same-sex marriage and voters in Minnesota defeated an amendment to their state constitution that would have defined marriage as being between a man and a woman.

Maine became the first state in the nation Tuesday to legalize gay marriage through a citizen-brought initiative and Minnesota was one of the first states to defeat a constitutional amendment backed by the National Organization for Marriage.

In Washington state, however, the battle wages on. It could be days before Washington residents know if their state allows same-sex unions. With nearly 50 percent of the ballots in, Washington's gay marriage law was leading with 52 percent early Tuesday.

"This is a landmark election for marriage equality and we will forever look back at this year as a critical turning point in the movement for full citizenship for LGBT people," says Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Council, a group that works for LGBT equality issues.

"As we celebrate victory tonight we know we have added momentum to ensure that this victory is soon felt in every corner of this country. Poll after poll shows a majority of Americans supporting marriage equality and the numbers continue to grow every single day."

President of the National Organization for Marriage Brian Brown says that the group was spread too thin to defend all of the gay marriage ballot initiatives in the deep blue states. "It was a difficult night," says Brian Brown, the president of the National Organization for Marriage. "This is a wake-up call to Americans to realize what is at stake. We cannot be outspent six to one and still win. That is what happened last night."

Marijuana: On Tuesday, Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize recreational marijuana. Colorado and Washington's laws, which both passed with about 55 percent of the vote, allow residents to possess up to an ounce of weed if they are over 21.

"The passage of these measures strikes significant blow to federal cannabis prohibition. Like alcohol prohibition before it, marijuana prohibition is a failed federal policy that delegates the burden of enforcement to the state and local police," says Paul Armentano, deputy director of NORML, a pro-pot group. "Alcohol prohibition fell when a sufficient number of states enacted legislation repealing the state's alcohol prohibition laws. Today, history begins to repeat itself."

While Coloradans and Washingtonians celebrated the win Tuesday, the ballot initiative could be the start of a showdown between state governments and federal authorities. It's still illegal under the federal law to possess, sell, or grow any amount of marijuana even for medicinal purposes. Federal authorities have been shy to crack down on Colorado and Washington's medical marijuana industries, but a recreational one could be another story. Oregon also attempted to legalize marijuana, but the ballot initiative, which was more liberally written than the others, failed.