Optimism Despite Louisiana Loss

National leaders say anti-marriage amendments can be defeated in Oregon, Kentucky

As voters in Louisiana gave overwhelming approval to an amendment to that state’s constitution that bans same-sex marriage, queer community leaders said that two of 11 similar bans expected on November 2 ballots may be defeated.

“Oregon is where we have our single best chance to win and then Kentucky is our second best chance to win,” said David Fleischer, director of organizing and training at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF). “Then states like Michigan and Utah are well worth watching.”

Fleischer spoke during a September 19 conference call with reporters that was part prognostication and part post-mortem on the September 18 Louisiana vote where 618,869 voters, or 78 percent, supported the amendment and 177,145, or 22 percent opposed it.

The Louisiana result was expected. Activists there first sued to keep the amendment off the ballot. Now they will try and strike it down in court.

“We started with less than a shoestring,” said Tim Hornback, executive director of Forum for Equality, the Louisiana group that led the fight against the ballot initiative.

One bright spot in Louisiana is that Hornback’s group used the anti-amendment fight to identify gay-friendly voters, donors and politicians. The group built “a stronger infrastructure,” according to Hornback.

The vote was notable for the light turnout. Only 28 percent of registered Louisiana voters cast ballots, according to Matt Foreman, NGLTF’s executive director. Last year, just under 46 percent of that state’s registered voters cast a ballot when there were ten initiatives for their consideration.

The assumption is that these ballot initiatives will pull right-wing voters to the polls on November 2 who will also support Pres. George W. Bush.

“I would say that based on the turnout yesterday, this doesn’t have the juice that many people think,” Foreman said.

There was little else to bring out voters.

“There were very few races on the ballot,” Hornback said. “In some parts of the state only this initiative was on the ballot.”

The Louisiana vote is the second such amendment approved by voters. On August 3, 1,054,235 Missouri voters, or 71 percent, endorsed a state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage and 437,563 voters, or 29 percent, opposed it.

Missourians set a record for turnout in a primary election on August 3, but 58 percent of voters cast ballots in the Democratic primary and 42 percent voted in the Republican primary. That suggests that a voter can oppose same-sex marriage and vote Democratic.

Fleischer said that the lopsided votes in Louisiana and Missouri do not mean that the results on November 2 will be the same

“The voters in neither state experienced a vigorous campaign,” he said. “The two votes actually don’t predict how we are going to do.”

A win in Oregon is likely. Gay groups in that state have fought four anti-gay initiatives and won three. The loss came in the first ballot fight in 1988.

“Oregon is in a unique position,” said Aisling Coghlan, campaign manager for No On 36 Campaign, Oregon’s marriage ballot initiative. “We have, over the last 16 years, fought four ballot initiatives.”

Those battles laid the ground for this year’s campaign. Many Oregon voters have talked about queer issues previously. The campaign has raised $1.3 million to date and recruited 1,000 volunteers.

“We were able to start our campaign in a strong position because of the ballot issues,” Coghlan said. “People have really had discussions about gay and lesbian issues over the past 16 years.”

Activists in Kentucky are also confident that they can convince voters of the harm that banning same-sex marriage and civil unions with a state constitutional amendment would cause harm.

“They understand that this would close the door forever on protections for gay and straight couples,” said Sarah Reece, campaign manager for Kentucky’s No On the Amendment. “We have two goals. The first is to win on election day and the second is to strengthen our long term political power by building relationships with progressive groups.”

Activist are also saying that even where amendments pass, community groups can still benefit by building voter or donor lists and identifying allies.

“Where the challenge is enormous they can still wake up on November 3 better, stronger, and ready to fight on,” Foreman said.

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