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Same-sex marriage bans winning on state ballots

11 states approve constitutional amendments to outlaw gay nuptials

Alison Wood, right, lets her adopted daughter Hanna Wood-Krusell put a ballot into the box Tuesday as Wood's partner Nancy Krusell watches, in Rockport, Massachusetts.
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(CNN) -- Six months after gay and lesbian couples won the right to marry in Massachusetts, opponents of same-sex marriage struck back Tuesday, with voters in 11 states approving constitutional amendments codifying marriage as an exclusively heterosexual institution.

Voters in Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon and Utah all approved anti-same-sex marriage amendments by double-digit margins.

The closest race came in Oregon, where gay rights groups concentrated much of their effort and money and thought they had the best chance of winning. Opponents of the amendment raised about $2.8 million, enough to run TV and radio ads in the Beaver State and outspend pro-amendment forces, according to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

Yet, in the end, the amendment passed by a margin of 57 percent to 43 percent.

In the remaining states, the amendments passed with 60 percent of the vote or more, with the margin at a whopping 86 percent in Mississippi.

The push to amend state constitutions to ban same-sex marriage gained steam in May, after gay men and lesbians were granted the right to marry in Massachusetts, thanks to the state's Supreme Judicial Court, which ruled that laws restricting marriage to heterosexuals violated the state constitution.

In the wake of that ruling, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom ordered his city clerk to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, saying the California constitution also did not allow such distinctions to be made. Local officials in a number of other states, including Oregon and New York, followed his controversial lead.

The California Supreme Court later ruled that Newsom had overstepped his authority, although the legal fight over the larger constitutional question has yet to be resolved.

As the backlash grew, opponents of gay and lesbian marriage, including many religious conservatives, moved quickly to put amendments on state ballots to short-circuit similar rulings from courts sympathetic to the argument that restricting marriage to opposite-sex couples was discriminatory.

"Millions of people understand that it's not bigotry to believe that marriage is between a man and a woman, and it's not right-wing to think that children need a mother and a father, not two mothers and two fathers," said Gary Bauer, president of American Values, a group opposed to same-sex marriage.

Opponents of gay and lesbian marriage are also pushing a federal constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage nationwide, though it failed to gain the needed two-thirds majority to pass when it came up for votes in both the House and Senate.

The federal amendment became an issue in the presidential race, with President Bush supporting the measure and Sen. John Kerry opposing it. Despite their differences over the amendment, both Kerry and Bush were on record opposing same-sex marriage and supporting civil unions, and Kerry has said he is not opposed to state constitutional bans.

With polls showing strong public opposition to same-sex marriage, groups fighting Tuesday's ballot measures conceded from the beginning that theirs was an uphill fight -- but they embraced the silver lining that the ballot measures were at least an opportunity to debate the issue.

"Public opinion does not change overnight," said Joan Garry, executive director for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. "We all know from personal experience you do not change somebody's mind on something they feel personally about without arguing about it."

In eight of the 11 states that voted Tuesday, the constitutional amendments contain additional language that opponents said could also ban civil unions and other legal protections for gay and lesbian people, though proponents in some of those states disputed those claims. The states are Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma and Utah.

The measure approved in Oklahoma Tuesday went one step further by making it a misdemeanor crime to issue a marriage license to a same-sex couple, a pre-emptive shot against any local officials who might want to follow in Newsom's footsteps.

Earlier this year, voters in Missouri and Louisiana also approved amendments banning same-sex marriage, although a judge in Louisiana later struck down that state's measure because of flawed ballot language. The state has appealed that ruling.

CNN's Thomas Roberts and Sean Gibbons contributed to this report.

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