KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Missouri voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment Tuesday to ban gay marriage, the first such vote since the historic ruling in Massachusetts last year that legalized same-sex weddings there.
Missouri's governor also was ousted in a primary battle.
Although the gay marriage ban was widely expected to pass in conservative Missouri, experts said the campaign served as a key barometer for which strategies work as the gay marriage battle spreads to ballot boxes around the nation. At least nine other states, and perhaps as many as 12, will vote on similar amendments this year.
The amendment had garnered 70 percent of the vote with 91 percent of precincts reporting.
Missouri and 37 other states already have laws defining marriage as only between a man and a woman. But amendment supporters fear a court could toss aside the state law, and they believe the state would be on firmer legal ground if an outright ban is part of the Constitution.
"I'm very gratified and encouraged and thankful that the people of this state understand our current policy's a wise public policy and they want to see it protected from a legal challenge," said Vicky Hartzler, a spokeswoman for the Coalition to Protect Marriage in Missouri.
Opponents said the amendment was unnecessary and discriminatory, but knew they faced an uphill battle in Missouri.
"We're already reaching out to these other states, sharing with them what we learned, what worked, what didn't work, and we'll move on," said Doug Gray, campaign manager for the Constitution Defense League. "Ultimately we're right and they're simply wrong."
Supporters and opponents of the amendment have used grassroots campaigns, knocking on doors and making phone calls to tell people about the issue. The group fighting the amendment, the Constitution Defense League, raised more than $360,000, largely from national gay-rights groups, and ran a television ad in the final days before the vote.
The group favoring the amendment, the Coalition to Protect Marriage in Missouri, spread the word through churches and community events, raising just a few thousand dollars but saying public sentiment in Missouri was on their side.
Louisiana residents are to vote on a marriage amendment Sept. 18. Then Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, Montana, Oklahoma, Oregon and Utah are to vote on the issue Nov. 2. Initiatives are pending in Michigan, North Dakota and Ohio.
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Four states already have similar amendments.
Governor ousted in primary
Missouri voters also dumped embattled Gov. Bob Holden in favor of state Auditor Claire McCaskill in the Democratic primary Tuesday, delivering Holden a stunning defeat after a term that has been mired in turmoil since his very first day in office.
Holden is the first sitting governor in a decade to lose a primary.
Holden called McCaskill to congratulate her, then broke the news to his supporters by urging Democrats to unite behind her. "I want all of you to know we are all Democrats and we will work to elect this Democratic ticket in November 2004," he said.
With 91 percent of precincts reporting, McCaskill had 400,066 votes, or 52 percent, compared to Holden's 352,821 votes, or 45 percent.
McCaskill, 51, will face GOP Secretary of State Matt Blunt in November in a race that could have broad political implications. Experts say the gubernatorial candidates could help carry either President Bush or Sen. John Kerry to victory in this key swing state.
Holden, 54, has had a rough first term, starting with a lavish inaugural ball that quickly became a public relations nightmare. Republicans also won control of the Senate for the first time in a half-century during the term, and much of his campaign platform has been undermined by budget shortfalls.
Three vetoes nixed
Holden also achieved a rare distinction last year when lawmakers overrode three of his vetoes — matching in one year what had been the total number of vetoes overridden in Missouri since the Civil War.
His troubles prompted opponents to give him the not-so-flattering nickname — "OTB," or "One Term Bob."
Blunt, who defeated several lesser-known opponents Tuesday, said his overwhelming victory illustrated his momentum against whoever emerges from the Democratic primary.
"I think it's symbolic of the unity we have as a party, and the fact that we're all watching a very competitive race on the other side is very symbolic of the differences they have," Blunt said.
Blunt is the son of Rep. Roy Blunt, the third-ranking House Republican.
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