Missouri voters turned out in record numbers Tuesday to express in the privacy of a voting booth what many polite Americans are reluctant to say publicly - that marriage is between a man and a woman.
Under normal circumstances, the vast majority of people would slap their foreheads at this point and say, "Duh." But these are not normal times and so "normal" goes underground, emerging only at election time to find expression through the ballot.
In Missouri, an unprecedented number of people turned out to vote for a state constitutional amendment clarifying the definition of marriage. The amendment passed by a 71 percent vote, which is considered not just a landslide but an avalanche. Voter turnout was 42.8 percent for a primary election that usually only draws between 15 percent and 25 percent.
Certainly not those leading opposition to the amendment, some of whom expressed not only disappointment, but hurt, according to The New York Times, which buried the story of the amendment's success on page A-16. Editorial comment noted.
Activists for same-sex marriage say they will study Missouri to try to figure out why their strategy failed in hopes of preventing similar outcomes elsewhere. After all, they spent $450,000 to no avail, compared to just $19,000 the amendment's supporters doled out. What, good money can't buy deeply held values?
Marriage amendments will appear on ballots this fall in nine other states (Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Oklahoma, Oregon and Utah) and possibly Ohio and North Dakota. Between now and then, same-sex marriage supporters will try to determine what went wrong in Missouri, and what they can do differently.
The answers, respectively are: nothing went wrong, and probably not much.
What happened in Missouri is that people turned out to cast a vote in favor of what they believe to be true and important, that marriage is between a man and a woman. It was not a vote against gays and lesbians, as some will insist, but a vote (ITALICS) for the basic structural unit of human civilization.
No amount of money or political strategy is likely to change either that understanding or the will to preserve it.
Political observers generally say that where goes Missouri, the "Show Me" state, so goes the nation. Missouri and Ohio both are considered bellwether states because they're diverse, evenly balanced between Democrats and Republicans and, as such, are microcosms of the country.
John Green, director of the University of Akron's Ray C. Bliss Institute for Applied Politics, predicts that Missouri's vote will be replicated in other Midwestern states, including Ohio, though not necessarily in more liberal states, such as Oregon.
More predictive than partisanship, says Green, is religion, which accounts for much of the high turnout in Missouri. Churches urged congregations to vote and, as even nonbelievers grudgingly might concede, prayer has been known to work wonders. All of which probably bodes ill for Democrats and John F. Kerry.
If you want to know how people are going to vote, a reliable rule is, watch what they do on their day of worship. Do they head out for church/temple, or to Lowe's?
Given that religious people tend to vote more often than secularists - and given that secularists tend to vote more often for Democrats - a high turnout of religious Americans committed to preserving traditional marriage could be a boon to President George W. Bush.
Aha, just as planned, those sneaky Republicans. They created a wedge issue out of same-sex marriage in order to motivate those wacky (homophobic, bigoted, gay-bashing) right-wingers to vote in greater numbers and keep those multihued, tolerant, peace-loving Democrats out of the White House.
I don't doubt that the right wing of the Republican Party is home to a few of those both wacky and parenthetically described, but the same-sex issue wasn't invented by Bush or the right wing. It was manufactured by the Massachusetts courts when judges ruled in favor of same-sex marriage.
The fact that so many voters, both Democrat and Republican, turned out in Missouri suggests that Americans want to have a voice in the marriage debate. Bush may benefit from extra voters mobilized by the issue, but credit for the wedge will belong to the activists and judges who forced silent Americans to speak up at the polls.