ELECTION 2005: Turnout key in Texas marriage amend. vote

EDITORS’ NOTE: This is the third story in a three-part series previewing the Nov. 8 election.

AUSTIN, Texas (BP)--Less than 24 hours before Election Day, supporters of a state constitutional marriage amendment in Texas are not assuming victory.

Known as Proposition 2, the amendment would protect the natural definition of marriage from rulings by state courts.

“Last week we spoke to a group of retired teachers, who were a pretty savvy group. Some of them didn’t know there was an election, much less anything about the significance of Proposition 2 being [on the ballot]," state Rep. Warren Chisum, a Republican and the amendment’s author, told the Southern Baptist TEXAN. "I’m afraid at this point we don’t have the word out adequately."

There is even some confusion as to how those who support the amendment should vote -- mainly because the opposition has had some success confusing the debate. (A vote for Proposition 2 is a vote for the marriage amendment.) One anti-amendment group, No Nonsense in November, has posted yard signs, reading, "Families Matter," with an additional message urging a "no" vote. Another anti-amendment group, Save Texas Marriage, actually argues that the amendment would invalidate heterosexual marriages already in place. But Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott subsequently released a statement, calling such arguments "nonsensical" and "wholly without merit."

Proposition 2 reads: “Marriage in this state shall consist only of the union of one man and one woman. This state or a political subdivision of this state may not create or recognize any legal status identical or similar to marriage.”

Traditionally, off-year referendum elections draw less than 10 percent of registered voters, and conservatives fear that a low turnout could help the opposition.

"Whether we win or lose will probably be dependent upon whether the Baptists go to the polls and whether churches tell their people that this election is even occurring," Kelly Shackelford, president of the conservative Free Market Foundation President, told Baptist Press.

The fact that Texas is the only state voting on a marriage amendment has given national homosexual groups the opportunity to pour all of their resources into the Lone Star State. Last November, homosexual organization had to divide their money among the 11 states voting on marriage amendments.

"It's very conceivable we could lose," Shackelford said. "… This vote might not represent what most Texans believe."

No Nonsense in November is leading the opposition to Proposition 2 with help from the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force and a long list of Texas supporters, including the Log Cabin Republicans (an organization of homosexual Republicans) and the Democratic Party of Dallas, Tarrant, Collin and Denton counties in North Texas.

“I talked to somebody at church just last Sunday. I asked them what they thought about it and they didn’t know there was a vote going on,” Hiram Sasser, an attorney with the Free Market Foundation, said. “We’ve got a long ways to go to make everybody informed that there’s going to be a vote Nov. 8 to decide whether or not God’s definition of marriage will stand in Texas or whether we are going to allow same-sex marriages.”

Shackelford, with counsel from civil liberties attorney Jay Sekulow, helped Chisum add language to the amendment that prohibits legal recognition of Vermont-style civil unions, Chisum told the TEXAN.

Amendment opponents believe they can win. Glen Maxey of No Nonsense in November told the alternative news weekly the Austin Chronicle that Texas "is absolutely the best positioned state to win this election. … And if we win, it will change for all time the gay and lesbian movement. It will change the national debate.” Maxey was the lone openly homosexual legislator when he served in the Texas House.

In a phone interview, Maxey told the TEXAN that because Texas already has a defense of marriage law on the books, “Nothing really changes [if Proposition 2 passes] except the unintended consequences that will come out of the second half of the amendment designed to prevent civil unions.”

Sasser of the Free Market Foundation called Maxey’s charge a groundless attempt to shift the debate.

“One of the findings [of the Texas legislature] is that this will have no effect on domestic partner arrangements,” Sasser said. “And the common law charge is a red herring. It’s a smokescreen for the real issue, which is whether or not we are going to have same-sex marriages. Common law marriage is going to be totally unaffected by this.”

In the Houston television market, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force released seven television spots Oct. 12 encouraging a “no” vote on Proposition 2. The ads featuring homosexual couples and their family members use terms such as “moral compass” and “Golden Rule” to appeal to voters. Shackelford said on the foundation’s website the ads “inaccurately describe the marriage amendment” and “are based on false arguments not supported by the legislation.”

One of the spots features the parents of two homosexual sons and includes soothing piano music for emotional appeal.

“Having gay sons puts your faith to the test,” the mother says. The father follows with: “Like any other parent, my first reaction was, ‘What did I do wrong?’ And of course, I hadn’t done anything wrong.” His wife adds, “My entire Christian faith can be summed up with Jesus Christ’s two new commandments, which was to love God and to love each other. He didn’t say, ‘Love each other -- unless they’re gay’”

The pro-amendment group Texans for Marriage countered with a TV ad showing an unidentified male hand holding an unidentified female hand. The announcer simply reads Genesis 2:24: "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united with his wife. And they will become one flesh." The announcer then adds, "For God's design, vote for Proposition 2 on Nov. 8."

Chisum said if large religious groups such as Baptists and Catholics vote Nov. 8, Proposition 2 would pass overwhelmingly.

Jim Richards, executive director of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, told the TEXAN in September: “Our Christian values have come under assault by the secular culture for almost 40 years. The current battlefront is same-sex marriage. Texans have an opportunity to speak loudly for the definition of marriage as between one man and one woman.”

The Catholic Bishops of Texas released a statement Sept. 29 supporting Proposition 2.

“Marriage did not originate from either the Church or state, but from God," the statement reads. "Therefore, we believe neither Church nor state has the right to alter the nature and structure of marriage. What God has joined together let no one put asunder."


With reporting by Jerry Pierce of the Southern Baptist TEXAN and Michael Foust of Baptist Press

-- For more information about Proposition 2, visit www.TexansForMarriage.org

-- For more information about the national debate over "gay marriage," visit www.bpnews.net/samesexmarriage

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