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Arizona, Florida also ban gay marriages

SAN FRANCISCO — A giant rainbow-colored flag in the gay-friendly Castro neighborhood here was flying at half-staff on Wednesday as social and religious conservatives celebrated passage of measures to ban same-sex marriage in California, Florida and Arizona.

In California, where same-sex weddings had been performed since June, the ban passed with 52 percent of the vote, according to figures by the secretary of state and projections by several California media outlets. Opponents of same-sex marriage won by even bigger margins in Arizona and Florida. Just two years ago, Arizona rejected a similar ban.

The across-the-board sweep, coupled with passage of a measure in Arkansas intended to bar gay men and women from adopting children, marked a stunning victory for religious conservatives, who had little else to celebrate on an Election Day that saw Sen. John McCain lose his presidential race and other ballot measures, such as efforts to restrict abortion in South Dakota, California and Colorado, rejected.

"It was a great victory," said the Rev. James Garlow, senior pastor of Skyline Church in San Diego County and a leader of the campaign to pass the California measure, Proposition 8. "We saw the people just rise up."

The losses devastated supporters of same-sex marriage and ignited a debate about whether the movement to expand the rights of same-sex couples had hit a cultural brick wall, even as another civil rights milestone — the election of a black president — had occurred. Thirty states have now passed bans on same-sex marriage.

Supporters of same-sex marriage in California, where the fight on Tuesday was fiercest, appeared to have been outflanked by the measure's well-organized backers and, exit polls indicated, hurt by the large turnout among black and Hispanic voters drawn to Sen. Barack Obama's presidential candidacy. Obama opposes same-sex marriage.

California will still allow same-sex civil unions, but that is not an option in Arizona and Florida. Exit polls in California found that 70 percent of black voters voted for the ban. Slightly more than a majority of Latino voters, who made up almost 20 percent of voters, favored the ban, while 53 percent of whites opposed it.

Proposition 8 was one of the most expensive ballot measures ever waged, with combined spending of more than $75 million. Focus on the Family and other religious conservative groups contributed funding to the help pass the gay marriage measures in all three states.

Proposition 8's passage left only Massachusetts and Connecticut as states where same-sex marriages are legal, although both Rhode Island and New York will continue to recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. Civil unions or domestic partnerships, which carry many of the same rights as marriage, are allowed in a handful of states. More than 40 states now have constitutional bans or laws against same-sex marriage.

On Wednesday, five months of same-sex marriages in California — declared legal by the State Supreme Court in May — appeared to have come to a halt.

"This city is no longer marrying people" of the same sex, Gavin Newsom, the mayor of San Francisco, announced at a grim news conference at City Hall, where hundreds of same-sex couples had rushed to get married in the days and hours leading up to Tuesday's vote.

The status of those marriages, among 17,000 same-sex unions performed in the state, was left in doubt by the vote.

The state's attorney general, Jerry Brown, reiterated on Wednesday that he believed that those marriages would remain valid, but legal skirmishes were expected.

The cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco, and Santa Clara County, as well as several civil rights and gay rights groups, said on Wednesday that they would sue to block the ban. Some opponents of the proposition were also still holding out slim hopes that a batch of perhaps as many as 4 million provisional and vote-by-mail ballots would somehow turn the tide.

Julius Turman, a chair of the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club, a gay political group here, said he called his mother in tears when Obama won the presidency, only to be crying over the same-sex marriage vote in a different way not much later.

"It is the definition of bittersweet," he said. "As an African-American, I rejoiced in the symbolism of yesterday. As a gay man, I thought how can this be happening?"

The victory of the social and religious conservatives came on a core issue that has defined their engagement in politics over the past decade.

The Rev. Joel Hunter, an evangelical pastor in Florida, said that many religious conservatives feel more urgency about stopping same-sex marriage than they do about abortion, another hotly contested issue long locked in a stalemate.

"There is enough of the population that is alarmed at the general breakdown of the family, that has been so inundated with images of homosexual relationships in all of the media," said Hunter, who gave the benediction at the Democratic National Convention this year, yet supported the same-sex marriage ban in his state. "It's almost like it's obligatory these days to have a homosexual couple in every TV show or every movie."

Supporters of the bans in California, Arizona and Florida benefited from the donations and volunteers mobilized by a broad array of churches and religious groups from across the ethnic spectrum.

The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, a pastor in Sacramento and president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, said the campaign to pass Proposition 8 began with white evangelical churches, but spread to more than 1,130 Hispanic churches whose pastors convinced their members that same-sex marriage threatened the traditional family.

"Without the Latino vote," Rodriguez said. "Proposition 8 would never have succeeded."

Frank Schubert, the campaign manager for Protect Marriage, the leading group behind Proposition 8, agreed that minority votes put the measure over the top, saying that a strategy of working conservative black pastors and community leaders paid off.

Forces on both sides viewed California as a critical test of the nation's acceptance of gay people, who have made remarkable strides in the decades since the 1969 riots at New York's Stonewall Inn, considered the beginning of the gay rights movement.

Scholars were divided on how large of setback Tuesday's votes would be for that movement. Andrew Koppelman, a professor of law at Northwestern University and the author of "Same Sex: Different States," a study of same-sex marriage, said the outcome had a silver lining, namely that it was closer than previous statewide measures.

A 2000 ballot measure establishing a California state law against same-sex marriage passed with 61 percent of the vote. That law was overturned in May by the State Supreme court.In Arizona, where same-sex marriage was already against the law, the victory for Proposition 102 was met with a shrug by some. "I think the country was like, 'Look, you get Obama, call it a day and go home,"' said Kyrsten Sinema, a Democratic state representative who led opponents against Proposition 102. "And frankly, I'll take it."