Things To Act
Sunday, July 11, 2004
The Politics of the State-Level Amendment Drives
All eyes are on Missouri, which votes first (in about three weeks). Both sides want momentum going into the November elections. If those in favor of an amendment can point to a Missouri victory, it might help swing comparatively liberal states (such as Oregon), as well as dividing the resources of those opposed. Those opposed, meanwhile, would take an MO win as a sign that there may be hope in the Deep South or Utah (in addition, it seems unlikely that 'no' campaigns in those states could attract much cash after a MO defeat).

I could find one website run by a group actively campaigning for the amendment: Coalition to Protect Marriage in Missouri.

A fair question to ask is what effect, if any, amending state constitutions will have. Several possibilities include:
*Widespread failure of anti-SSM ballot propositions would likely hasten the day that more states recognize SSM.
*Successful amendments might keep SSM out of those states, if the DOMA is upheld as constitutional when it reaches the Supreme Court. Under this scenario, MA either does or does not enact a similar amendment in 2006. Regardless, it seems likely that at least one state would eventually legalize SSM (whether by election, legislation, or judicial fiat), and the country would go forth for a time with some states allowing SSM and some not. If public opinion trends increasingly favor SSM, more states might follow if no immediate negative consequences are evident (other than the wrath of conservatives). A watershed moment under this scenario might be the first state to repeal its anti-SSM amendment.
*On the other hand, the DOMA may be struck down. In that case, SSM would be legalized in every state (via MA), regardless of state-level amendments (unless MA banned it again, but some other state might legalize it again, and off we would go...). Striking down DOMA, as it would likely be a close vote, could lead to further Supreme Court political warfare (especially over nominations), or it could lead to increased pressure for some sort of federal amendment. However, my guess would be that if DOMA is struck down, the movement to eliminate SSM would lose momentum and, at most, fade to the sort of issue position that abortion plays in American politics today--lots of people are angry, but nothing they do makes much difference, and swing voters and the political class lack the will to make the changes they want.
*Regardless, civil unions are now widely seen as a compromise option, and it seems likely that civil unions will become widespread in at least some of the more liberal states (besides Vermont) under any scenario (except nationwide SSM, which would obviate the need). How this would play out in family law, particularly in family law disputes between states, seems a question of staggering complexity.
*Successful state-level amendment campaigns could send a signal to the political class, particularly if large numbers of people make it a voting issue in candidate races. This could increase support for the FMA, if Senators (or Senatorial candidates) feel increased pressure to support the FMA. In addition, if the FMA ever clears Congress, it would need to be ratified in 3/4 of the states to take effect. State electorates that have voted in favor of such amendments might have an easier time ratifying than those that haven't, as state legislatures might be more reluctant to go against the referendum results (or, if Congress submitted the FMA to ratifying conventions instead of legislatures, passage would seem even more likely).

In any event, the net effect is debatable, and depends on how things play out in other venues. Meanwhile, the Church's public statement in favor of the idea of amending state constitutions to preserve marriage still leaves some questions open. The Church could conceivably pick from among several different options.

Some of these options are unlikely. It seems unlikely that the Church will formally endorse the FMA, and even more unlikely that the Church would officially support or oppose any Senators for reelection, regardless of votes on the FMA (though what members unofficially do is an open question). I base this conclusion on the Church's avoidance of candidate races, and on the observation that, since the FMA vote is this week, a forthcoming endorsement in addition to the non-endorsing statement seems unlikely.

However, at the state level, the options are more flexible. The Church has involved itself officially in supporting similar ballot propositions before, in HI, AK, CA, and NV. In my understanding, the Church donated money to campaign coalitions, encouraged its members to work for the passage of the propositions, and was in general publicly officially in favor of each amendment.

With ~11 states voting on state-level amendments, the Church could take any or all of these actions again. It could formally endorse various state-level amendments (though observers would read volumes into its choices if it endorsed some and not others). The Church could donate money and/or encourage members to donate manpower and/or money (though official donations in multiple states might stretch the budget more than one-time commitments in previous years). Or the Church could take no official action from this point, leaving it to members to decide what actions are appropriate in light of the official statement of last week.

All of these actions carry possible interesting consequences. Some members feel uncomfortable with this sort of political advocacy (at least, anecdotal evidence I've heard from members in CA in 2000 seems to indicate such), and many members may have split opinions on the merits of the various state-level amendments (such as those that ban civil unions in addition to SSM). In addition, a public relations backlash from a press that largely favors SSM and doesn't care for the Church seems certain. Furthermore, any more of an endorsement in Utah, at least, seems certain to bring more cries of church-state interference with possible polarizing LDS/non-LDS consequences in Utah. And support public support elsewhere would likely be seen as equivalent to public support in Utah, even if the Church doesn't donate a dime to the efforts in Utah.

In any event, it will be interesting to observe what choices the Church makes, as well as how the issue plays out nationwide.

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