State seen as bellwether

Results of Aug. 3 vote on gay marriage seen as influencing similar votes across the U. S.
Monday, July 26, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 7:20 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

With the failure of the Federal Marriage Amendment in the U.S. Senate, which had attempted to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman and restrict the ability of courts to force the recognition of same-sex marriages, Missouri voters will be the ones who write the next chapter on who is granted access to the institution of marriage in America.

Since Missouri is a key battleground state in the national election and the first state to vote on this type of amendment, many think the voters’ decision on Aug. 3 might influence similar votes across the country.

Missouri has a history of being looked to as an accurate election forecaster for the nation, and this year is no different.

“It is probably the truest microcosm of the American electorate,” said Terry Smith, Columbia College vice president and political science professor.

In key statistics such as population, ethnic percentages and types of industry, Smith said Missouri is closest to the nation’s average.

Rick Hardy, who works with the Honor’s College at MU and also teaches political science, said Missouri is a good representative of the nation. Located at the center of the country in terms of geography, population and ideology, Hardy said when you put that all together you have a political culture that mirrors the nation.

Missouri votes are important

“Missouri is the bellwether state because we are at the crossroads of America,” Hardy said.

Both Hardy and Smith tout Missouri’s record of voting for the winner in every presidential election since 1904 with the exception of 1956 when Missourians choose Adlai Stevenson over Dwight Eisenhower 50.1 percent to 49.9 percent.

“That’s the best voting record in the country,” Smith said.

Hardy said Missouri’s same-sex marriage amendment is part of the nation’s reaction to the gay rights movement. Several states drafted amendments in response to San Francisco allowing same-sex marriages — the validity of which is still in question and the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruling that gays must be granted equal access to marriage.

The Missouri Legislature proposed a bill to put an amendment before the voters that defined marriage as between a man and a woman and barred the acknowledgement of marriages that did not fit that definition. This amendment is in addition to similar state statues passed in 1996 and 2001 mirroring the Federal Defense of Marriage Act.

Existing statute

  • 1. It is the public policy of this state to recognize marriage only between a man and a woman.

  • 2. Any purported marriage not between a man and a woman is invalid.
  • 3. No recorder shall issue a marriage license, except to a man and a woman.
  • 4. A marriage between persons of the same sex will not be recognized for any purpose in this state even when valid where contracted.

    — passed in 1996 and 2001

  • After the passage of the bill in the final minutes of this year’s legislative session, Democrats and Republicans wrestled over the timing of the vote. Republicans fought to put it on the Nov. 2 ballot because more members of their base would turnout for the presidential election, which would aid them in statewide and presidential elections. Democrats wanted it on the Aug. 3 ballot when conservative voters would be less likely to vote because of the lack of a high-profile race, such as the race for the Democratic nomination for governor.

    Mo. Supreme Court gives definition to voters

    This political tug of war inadvertently placed Missouri in the national spotlight, when the Missouri Supreme Court put the amendment on the primary ballot, making it the first state where voters will have their say on how marriage is defined in 2004.

    “I think a lot of eyes will be on Missouri on the August election to see what the results will be,” Hardy said.Other groups, both statewide and national, are looking to see whether Missouri will tilt their way or not.

    Peter Montgomery is vice president of communications for People of the American Way. This national group is strongly opposed to the Federal Marriage Amendment and similar ballot initiatives, which Montgomery said violates the spirit of the Constitution.

    “I think a lot of people will be looking to the states now that the FMA has failed in the Senate,” Montgomery said. “Certainly, if you have things failing it would block the momentum of the overall drive.”

    On the other side of the issue, Jason Stern said the amendment’s passage could benefit his cause. Stern is the director of research and communication at the Louisiana Family Forum, which is a group supporting an amendment drive similar to Missouri’s. He said such an amendment is intended to protect the institution of marriage.

    He said his group isn’t focusing as much on Missouri, because he is concerned with his state’s race, which comes sooner than many other elections. Louisiana votes on the issue Sept. 18 and is the only other state voting on marriage amendments prior to the November general election.

    Although he is concentrating more on his state’s race, Stern said the passage of the two amendments could bolster voters elsewhere.

    “It certainly can help if it passes here,” Stern said. “It certainly can’t hurt if it passes here and in Missouri.”

    Missouri race could be national indicator

    No matter which sides ends up proclaiming victory, there will be a lot to be learned from the Missouri race. Hardy said key questions lobbyists and advocacy groups will want to ask, in addition to did it pass or not, are by what margin and did it effect voter turnout.

    The numerical outcome might not be the only thing studied, Smith said, but also the approaches both sides take.

    “The winners and the losers will learn from the campaign strategies and attempt to apply them in other states,” he said.

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