Archive for Sunday, February 13, 2005

Analysis: Marriage crusade a lesson in politics

Fewer than 900 people made the difference in fate of amendment that would ban same-sex unions

February 13, 2005


— It's a testament to how a small number of people scattered across the state can have a profound impact.

Kansas voters soon will decide whether to constitutionally ban same-sex marriage because of the actions of fewer than 900 voters last summer.

Here's what happened.

In 2004, the House failed to gain the two-thirds majority needed to put the constitutional amendment on the ballot.

That angered a group of Christian fundamentalist ministers, who then mobilized to energize voters during the Republican Party primary in August.

They worked overtime to defeat four Republican incumbents who had voted against the amendment.

And the ministers succeeded.

The four incumbents were bounced by a combined 854 votes in the four primary contests.

That helped put the wheels on track for the two-thirds majority vote by the House earlier this month, which set the April 5 statewide vote on the amendment.

Single-issue voters

One of those Republicans who was defeated was Mary Compton, who had been a nine-year incumbent from Fredonia.

"That's what beat me," Compton said of her vote in the Legislature last year against the gay marriage ban. "That was the only issue."

In the primary, Forrest Knox of Fredonia defeated Compton by 73 votes in a race where 4,395 votes were cast.

The scenario repeated itself in the defeats of John Ballou of Gardner, Stanley Dreher of Iola and William Kassebaum of Burdick. All four voted against the amendment last year, and their successors voted to put the amendment on the ballot.

Fox makes targets

The Rev. Terry Fox, of Wichita, a leading advocate for the amendment, said fundamentalists strategically targeted certain GOP primaries after the amendment fell short in the Legislature in 2004.

Fox said he and the Rev. Joe Wright, also of Wichita, traveled to numerous towns to meet with pastors and civic leaders to get them involved in the election contests.

"We feel like we accomplished more in that last election than we thought we could do in three elections," Fox said.

He said when the Legislature rejected the amendment in 2004, "It awakened a sleeping giant.

"The days of liberal Republicans hiding under the Republican banner are over with, because our intentions are to expose as much as possible where the politicians stand on the issues."

Standing against

Compton said she voted against the amendment because current state law already prohibits same-sex marriage, and the amendment will prompt expensive legal challenges.

"I still feel like I have done the right thing," she said.

During the campaign, she was criticized by voters for being "for the gays," she said.

Compton said she told one voter that if the gay marriage amendment was the only important issue, then she should vote against her.

She said many church members walked door-to-door to tell people to vote her out of office.

Winners affected, too

Some lawmakers who voted against the amendment won their primaries in bitterly contested elections.

One of those was Rep. Ward Loyd, R-Garden City, who had been an opponent of the amendment. He turned back a Republican challenger in the primary, but when the time came to vote this year on the amendment, Loyd switched sides and voted for it.

He said he still believed it's a bad amendment, but he switched because "I saw this as a policy vote that was better for the state at this point to vote on this issue, get this issue out of the Legislature so that we can focus on other things."

Rep. Bonnie Sharp, D-Kansas City, also switched from voting against the amendment last year to voting for it this year.

She also said the amendment was unneeded but that between last year and now, she heard from many people in her district who wanted the opportunity to vote on the issue.

"I believe in the representative form of government, and I'm more than willing to let that happen," she said.

More gains for amendment

After the August primary, the social conservatives made more gains in the November general election, defeating a Democrat who voted against the amendment and winning several other seats that had been vacated by Democrats who retired from office.

Compton said she was not bothered by being unseated because of her position against the same-sex marriage amendment.

"I'm not bitter," she said. "I'm proud of what I did while I was there in the Legislature, and I still hold my head up."

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