California stops gay marriage amid Obama victory

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - California and two other states voted in Tuesday’s elections to ban same-sex marriage, dealing a blow to gays and lesbians in the left-leaning, trend-setting state months after they won their case in state court.

Amanda Stanfield, Jim Domer and J.D. Gaddis (L-R) pray together after it was announced that Proposition 8 passed at a post-election party in Irvine, California November 4, 2008. REUTERS/Fred Greaves

But in an indication of the complex cultural map drawn by the elections, voters also rejected limits on abortion in South Dakota and Colorado in a loss for social conservatives as the country elected its first black president, Barack Obama, a Democrat.

Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council which worked for the passage of the anti-gay marriage measures, said the wins on same-sex marriage bans signaled Obama’s mandate is for economic policy, “not one to implement a radical social policy.”

“What lost last night was the Republican Party, but it was not a rejection of traditional or moral values, because you have two states that voted for Barack Obama -- Florida and California -- that also passed the marriage amendments,” Perkins told Reuters in a telephone interview.

California’s Supreme Court had declared same-sex marriage a right in May, unleashing a flood of weddings, but the state’s voters changed the Constitution to rescind the right after one of the most expensive ballot campaigns in history.

Florida and Arizona joined California in Tuesday’s elections, adding to the list of dozens of states banning same-sex marriages with similar laws.

Obama, a U.S. senator from Illinois, won California and Florida. Rival Republican U.S. Sen. John McCain won his home state of Arizona, which in 2006 rejected a ban on same-sex marriage.

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Of the three measures to ban gay marriages, California’s was the most closely watched as the state is the most populous and is perceived as a political and cultural leader.

With 96.4 percent of precincts reporting, the California proposition -- which came about half a year after the state’s highest court opened the way to gay marriage -- was ahead by more than 4 percentage points.

In San Francisco, where Mayor Gavin Newsom initiated gay marriages in City Hall and launched the legal battle resulting in recognition of same-sex unions, Obama’s victory and message of change consoled proposition opponents.

“We have Obama,” Noelle Skool, 29, said as she checked identification at a popular lesbian bar in San Francisco’s Mission district. “It’s small steps. Eventually they’ll warm up to the fact that, hey, we’re all equal.”

Los Angeles attorney Gloria Allred said she planned a lawsuit to challenge California’s new gay-marriage ban on behalf of two lesbian clients involved in the earlier suit that reached the California Supreme Court.

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Meanwhile, in one of the most emotionally-fought U.S. social issues, abortion rights advocates declared victory in two states.

Colorado voters rejected a measure that would have made abortion the legal equivalent of murder by defining human life as beginning at conception.

South Dakota defeated a ban on abortion that, if passed, had been expected to spark a court battle leading to the Supreme Court.

“We defeated it here, and it won’t spread to other states,” said Sarah Stoesz, president of the local Planned Parenthood chapter. “And now we’ve started a counter movement in a very conservative part of the country.”

In other state ballots, Michigan voted to allow medical use of marijuana, Nebraska ended affirmative action, or policies to help minorities, and Washington voted to allow doctor-assisted suicide.

Reporting by Peter Henderson, Alexandria Sage, Jim Christie and Ed Stoddard, editing by Vicki Allen