Victory for God or Bigotry?
The already illegal practice of gay marriage just got more illegal
Texas conservatives were triumphant Tuesday, delivering a decisive vote banning same-sex marriages by a margin that surprised even the most optimistic Prop. 2 supporters.
The constitutional proposition propelled by the spirit of Christian evangelists and other religious conservatives captured 76% of the vote, winning overwhelmingly in every county in the state except Travis. "I'm just really blown away," said pro-amendment spokesman Kelly Shackelford, president of the Plano-based Free Market Foundation. "I'm surprised that the turnout was so high and that the margins were as wide as they were, even in places like Dallas and San Antonio. I didn't expect that."
Nor did opposition leaders, who had hoped to at least break 40% in an off-year election, which would have otherwise drawn just a minuscule percentage of voters to the polls. Instead, statewide turnout hit nearly 18%, passing the 16% projected by the secretary of state's office. Despite the bruising loss, the mood at Scholz Garten election watch headquarters for the No Nonsense in November campaign remained relatively upbeat through most of the evening.
The campaign made inroads on two fronts, organizers said, by getting people to talk openly about gay rights issues and by forging alliances with other organizations, some of which sprang to life in response to Prop. 2. "When you look at where we were a decade ago, there is a tremendous amount of bright light out there," said opposition leader Glen Maxey. "It's really hard to change generations of religious views," he said, referring to the pro-amendment campaign, which included a TV ad promoting heterosexual marriages as "God's design." "This 'marriage' word is the toughest thing for our community to grapple with because of its religious connotations. But we start by beginning that conversation with the older generation." The younger generation will carry the message, Maxey said, adding that he was especially heartened by the Campus Alliance Against Inequality, a UT group credited with buoying Travis County's remarkably high turnout of 25.7%. "They are the future of this state," said Maxey, who met with student supporters on campus before heading to Scholz.
Looking forward to the 2006 election year, Travis Co. Democrats say they're delighted with local precinct returns, reinforcing optimism for capturing the two current Republican House seats in the county's western half. "I'm proud to live in Austin, where I represent one-fifth of Travis County," said Rep. Elliott Naishtat, one of five local Democrats in the House and Senate. "I'm proud of all the people who stood up and voted against Prop. 2, and I'm looking forward to seeing Democrats winning Travis County seats in the House."
Prop. 2 proponents, including Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, who sponsored the legislative resolution leading to Tuesday's vote, gathered in Austin to celebrate their win at Great Hills Baptist Church in northwest Austin. Supporters say the overwhelming passage in President Bush's home state should serve as a strong message for Congress to add similar language to the U.S. Constitution. Washington lawmakers last year rejected such a measure, but the effort is now back on track for a vote before the full Senate. Passage in both Houses would override same-sex marriage rights in Massachusetts as well as help Republicans maintain the upper hand in Congress. "This is a really strong statement," Shackelford said of Tuesday's vote. "The momentum is very heavy right now, and those in the Senate who vote against the marriage amendment will do so at their own peril."
Prop. 2 proponents say they won't use the victory to try to prevent gay people from fostering or adopting children. "That won't happen," said Shackelford. "Texans really believe that [gay men and lesbians] have the freedom to love, but not to marry." In fact, the state House passed just such a ban last spring, but it ultimately sputtered in a conference committee.
Watching TV interviews of Prop. 2 proponents, Maxey said he was struck by supporters' claim that "God has spoken." "My God spoke to me, too, and told me he doesn't believe in bigotry."