Voters in seven U.S. states rejected gay wedlock by limiting marriage to unions between a man and a woman in one of the few bright spots for conservative Republicans in otherwise disappointing elections on Tuesday.

But Democrats and liberals were claiming victory on stem cell research and abortion, two major social issues that have polarized U.S. voters in recent years.

A lone stem cell initiative in Missouri was poised to win by a narrow margin, mirroring the nailbiting Senate victory of its main proponent, Democrat Claire McCaskill.

Missouri took center stage in the final weeks of the electoral battle after jarring ads by actor and Parkinson’s patient Michael J. Fox to support stem cell research. Opponents worry it would lead to human cloning.

In South Dakota, voters favored repealing an abortion law considered the most restrictive in the nation after pro-choice groups campaigned heavily in that state.

As Democrats swept the Republicans out of power in the U.S. House of Representatives and threatened to do the same in the Senate, conservative voters appeared to have turned out to oppose same-sex marriage and possibly help some Republican races.

Republicans had hoped for a repeat of 2004 when conservative voters flocked to the polls to vote against gay marriage and helped secure U.S. President George W. Bush’s second term.

“You definitely see a lot of turnout and support for these social issues, like limiting marriage,” said University of Southern California law and politics professor Kareem Crayton.

But he said analysts would need some days to determine if ballot initiatives had motivated people to vote and decided close congressional races.

Of the eight states where marriage amendments were on the ballot, seven — Virginia, South Carolina, Wisconsin, Tennessee, South Dakota, Colorado and Idaho — were headed toward opposing gay marriage. But supporters of gay marriage said they were seeing greater numbers voting in favor of their movement.


“Two years ago we had 11 of these on the ballot, and in only two of them did we do better than 40 percent,” said Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

“This year there were eight and in at least five of them we did better than 40 percent.”

Only Arizona voted against its marriage amendment, but analysts said that does not mean voters favor gay marriage.

“They were voting against a measure in the amendment that would have denied benefits to domestic partners,” said Arizona State University analyst Bruce Merrill.

Conservatives will have to rethink their strategy on abortion after the loss in South Dakota where they viewed the strict law as their best chance to challenge a 33-year-old Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion in the United States.

“This means that there has been a rebellion against social, right-wing wedge politics that have been dominating this country,” said Sarah Stoesz, CEO of South Dakota’s Planned Parenthood, key backers of the campaign to kill the measure.

Tobacco and smoking taxes, property rights and minimum wage levels were also big issues among the 205 ballot propositions in 37 states, according to the University of Southern California.

Democrats were declaring victory on minimum wage increases in six states — their counter-strategy to the conservatives marriage amendment proposals aimed at getting Democratic voters to the polls.

In California, the green power of Bill Clinton, Al Gore and Hollywood icons Julia Roberts and Brad Pitt were no match for big oil companies, which managed to convince voters to quash a tax on oil that would have gone to funding alternative energy. Both sides spent a total of $150 million in the battle.

And in the debate over drugs, two states, Nevada and Colorado, were set to reject proposals to legalize possession of one ounce of marijuana.

(Additional reporting by Ed Stoddard in Dallas, Tim Gaynor in Phoenix and Ann Grauvogl in Sioux Falls, SD)

© 2006 Reuters