The right’s referendum push

October 22, 2008

ATTENTION HAS naturally focused on the upcoming presidential election, but in states across the country, voters will have an important opportunity to cast a ballot against right wing-sponsored ballot measures this November 4.

One of the worst is California's Proposition 8, an anti-gay marriage initiative put on the ballot by right-wing groups in the wake of the California Supreme Court's ruling legalizing same-sex marriage.

It initially appeared that Prop 8 would go down to an easy defeat--a measure of the growing acceptance of gay rights and rejection of the right-wing agenda.

However, while polls still show a majority against banning gay marriage, the margin has tightened due to a numbers of factors, including large amounts of money pumped into the campaign by right-wing organizations like the Mormon Church. Another factor is the lackluster response of Democrats, who won't build all-out opposition to Prop 8 out of fear that gay marriage could be thrust into the national spotlight.

A similar measure, Proposition 102, is on the ballot in Arizona. And in Florida, the proposed Amendment 2 is even more draconian. Not only would it outlaw same-sex marriage rights (already illegal in Florida), but it would outlaw any legal union between same-sex couples, including civil unions and domestic partnerships. This would put at risk domestic partnership benefits--including health care and pensions--that some same-sex partners get through employers.

A crowd gathered outside San Francisco's City Hall to celebrate the first same-sex marriages
Outside San Francisco's City Hall on the first day of same-sex marriages in California in 2008

The right to choose abortion is also under attack in South Dakota and Colorado, with ballot measures designed to challenge the basic legality of abortion in the U.S.

In South Dakota, Initiated Measure 11, would ban nearly all abortions. A similar measure was defeated in 2006, but this time, the referendum has been rewritten to allow exceptions for abortion in cases of rape, incest and, within narrow limits, the health or life of the woman--which supporters believe will give it the needed edge to pass.

In Colorado, Amendment 48 would define a human egg as a "person" from the moment of fertilization and grant those eggs constitutional protections. The amendment is so broadly written that would it outlaw not only abortion (making it a crime of homicide), but some forms of birth control, such as birth control pills, emergency contraception (the "morning-after" pill) and IUDs.

Conservatives have proposed a referendum in Massachusetts, Question 1, which would eliminate the state income tax. This would be a disaster in any economic climate, but with the recession hitting hard now, the passage of Question 1 would lead to the shredding of most social services across the state.

Finally, in Colorado and Nebraska, ballot measures would, if enacted, ban affirmative action in public employment and education. The initiatives are being pushed by Ward Connerly, the conservative Black businessman who was behind an initiative to ban affirmative action in California in the 1990s. Such laws not only ignore the historic legacy of racism in the U.S., but are an attempt by the right to dismantle programs aimed at ending discrimination.

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