In a triple setback for conservatives, South Dakotans rejected a law that would have banned virtually all abortions, Arizona became the first state to defeat an amendment to ban gay marriage and Missouri approved a measure backing stem cell research.
Nationwide, a total of 205 measures were on the ballots in 37 states Tuesday, but none had riveted political activists across the country like the South Dakota measure. Passed overwhelmingly by the legislature earlier this year, it would have been the toughest abortion law in the nation, allowing the procedure only to save a pregnant woman’s life.
Lawmakers had hoped the ban would be challenged in court, provoking litigation that might eventually lead to a U.S. Supreme Court reversal of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion.
Jan Nicolay, a leader of the state’s anti-ban campaign, said voters viewed the measure — which lost by a 55-45 margin — as too intrusive.
“We believe South Dakotans can make these decisions themselves,” she said. “They don’t have to have somebody telling them what that decision needs to be.”
Arizona broke a strong national trend by refusing to change its constitution to define marriage as a one-man, one-woman institution. The measure also would have forbid civil unions and domestic partnerships.
Eight states voted on amendments to ban gay marriage: Colorado, Idaho, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin approved them. Similar amendments have passed previously in all 20 states to consider them.
“What we’re seeing is that fear-mongering around same-sex marriage is fizzling out,” said Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. He noted that the bans that succeeded won by much narrower margins, on average, than in the past.
Conservatives had hoped the same-sex marriage bans might increase turnout for Republicans, though the GOP had a rough night. Democrats had looked for a boost from low-income voters turning out on behalf of measures to raise the state minimum wage in six states. The wage hikes passed in Arizona, Colorado. Missouri, Montana, Ohio and Nevada.
Narrow passage for Mo. stem cell measure
The Missouri stem cell measure passed by a narrow margin. It had become a key factor in the state’s crucial Senate race, won by Democratic challenger Claire McCaskill, who supported it, over incumbent Republican Jim Talent, who opposed it.
Celebrities also had plunged into the campaign: actor Michael J. Fox, suffering from Parkinson’s disease, endorsed the amendment, while several sports stars spoke against it.
In Michigan, voters took a swipe at affirmative action, deciding that race and gender should not be factors in deciding who gets into public universities or who gets hired for government work.
Arizona voters faced the most ballot measures — 19. They approved four that arose out of frustration over the influx of illegal immigrants: One measure makes English the state’s official language, while another expands the list of government benefits denied to illegal immigrants.
Voters were not keen about another, quirkier Arizona measure: They defeated a proposal that would have awarded $1 million to a randomly selected voter in each general election.
In Ohio and Arizona, anti-smoking activists won showdowns with R.J. Reynolds Tobacco. Voters in each state approved a tough ban on smoking in public places and rejected rival, Reynolds-backed measures that would have exempted bars. Voters in Arizona and South Dakota approved increases in tobacco taxes, while the proposal was rejected in Missouri.
Nevada and Colorado voters rejected measures that would have legalized possession of up to an ounce of marijuana by anyone 21 and older. South Dakotans voted down a proposal that would have allowed marijuana use for some medical purposes. A winning measure in Rhode Island will restore voting rights to felons on probation and parole.
Elsewhere, land use was a hot issue, part of a backlash against a 2005 Supreme Court ruling allowing the city of New London, Conn., to buy up homes to make way for a private commercial development.
Nine states approved eminent-domain measures barring the government from taking private property for a private use. Arizona’s winning measure went a step further, requiring state and local authorities to compensate property owners if land-use regulations lowered the value of their property: Idaho rejected a similar measure.
South Dakota voters defeated a measure that would have made their state the first to strip immunity from judges, exposing them to the possibility of lawsuits. In Maine, Nebraska and Oregon, voters defeated measures that would cap increases in state spending.
Pennsylvania voters gave the state the go-ahead to borrow $20 million so that nearly 33,000 veterans in the state who participated in the Persian Gulf War could collect one-time payments up to $525.