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A drubbing for same-sex marriage

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The resounding "no" that voters gave to officially recognizing homosexual couples as married marks a major setback for the gay-marriage movement - and shows how the issue continues to divide the nation politically and geographically.

In all 11 states where they were on the ballot, measures banning same-sex marriage won - in most states overwhelmingly. Even in socially liberal Oregon, where gay-rights activists poured resources into defeating the measure, it passed handily. The other states where the measure passed were Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Utah.

"Given the success of these measures, we can expect other states to follow suit," says Craig Rimmerman, professor of political science at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, N.Y.

With judges and elected officials in Massachusetts, Oregon, New Jersey, Louisiana, California, and elsewhere weighing in, there's no doubt the issue has considerable political significance.

But this week's votes can also be seen in the broader context of how society changes - and has been changing - on issues involving deeply held values touching on religious beliefs and human identity. "The general trend in the last decade or so has been towards more acceptance of gay and lesbian people in a variety of contexts," says William Lunch, professor of political science at Oregon State University in Corvallis.

Politically, most of that has happened at the state and local level, including among businesses and other private institutions. Domestic partnerships are recognized in many cases for purposes of granting employment benefits. Laws prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation in housing and other areas. For the most part, "don't ask, don't tell" has worked in the military since former President Clinton ordered that change in 1993. Vermont led the way in granting official status to same-sex "civil unions" that include virtually all the legal benefits of marriage between a man and a woman.

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