Gay marriage votes may show changing U.S.
Gay couples are not hiding any more and that has made all the difference, said health care administrator Linda Merkens before Tuesday's vote in California that will decide the legality of same-sex marriage there.
It's one of several important ballot measures voters will face in states across the country on Election Day.
"A lot more gays are more open about their relationships, and a lot more people are willing to accept it," Merkens said in downtown Los Angeles recently.
Other passersby disagreed. "Same sex marriage is a sin," said city planner Kim Chan.
Tuesday's results will show how far attitudes to gay marriage have changed. Florida and Arizona will join California in voting on whether to stop gay marriage.
In the past, such propositions have almost always been approved, but polls show a close finish in California and many undecided in all three states.
Legal abortion also faces a key challenge as South Dakotans consider a measure to severely restrict the procedure. If it passes, opponents are expected to challenge it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. A poll by the state Argus Leader newspaper showed that vote a toss-up.
Altogether, 150 measures in about 35 states will be put to the vote on the same day the next U.S. president is chosen, with other issues ranging from affirmative action to how farm animals are treated.
A California court in May rejected limiting marriage to a man and a woman. Only a few nations and states agree.
Now Hollywood stars like Brad Pitt are facing off with conservative foes like the fast-growing Mormon church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, over Proposition 8, which would ban same-sex marriage.
Both sides have broad, deep pockets: ban proponents have raised about $30 million, and opponents recently topped that.
MORE IMPORTANT THAN PRESIDENCY
"This is the most important thing on the November 4th ballot," said Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council. "We've made bad selections as presidents but survived as a nation. But if we move down the path toward the dissolution of marriage we cannot divorce ourselves from the consequences of that."
Episcopal Bishop Marc Andrus supports gay marriage and said a ballot loss would slow the process -- not stop it.
Californians in 2000 passed a measure to define marriage as between a man and a woman. At that time, the San Francisco Bay Area was the only part of the state that supported gay marriage, said pollster Mark DiCamillo of the Field Poll.
This year, all the coastal areas support gay marriage, and support in the inland valleys, which have values similar to the center of the United States, has grown but remains small.
Los Angeles County had the biggest swing, he said. "It's the moderates who have moved," he said.
John Matsusaka, president of the Initiative and Referendum Institute at the University of Southern California, said voters, especially younger ones, were used to homosexuality. "It doesn't have shock value any more," Matsusaka said.
A ProtectMarriage.org flyer argues that gay marriage will be taught in schools if the ban fails, a position their opponents reject. Same-sex marriage supporters focus on equal rights for all. "People you know are asking you to vote no on Prop. 8" a No on 8 flyer says.