Two years ago, the Christian right urged sympathetic voters in Ohio to go to the polls and support a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. That many of those voters also supported George W. Bush may have tilted the state and a re-election victory to him. Ohio was emblematic of a narrowly defined view of moral values that had a lot of momentum in 2004.
Happily, in this year's election, the moral-values fervor was more subdued and the results from about 200 ballot measures nationwide were somewhat more balanced.
One of the most closely watched measures was a Missouri stem cell research initiative that became a major factor in the U.S. Senate contest won by Democrat Claire McCaskill. Her victory was not only another key win allowing Democrats to take control of the Senate, but also a big push for potentially lifesaving research.
The success of initiatives on same-sex unions was a bit more ambiguous. Seven states passed bans on gay marriage - making them illegal in more than two dozen states. But a proposed constitutional amendment in Arizona to define marriage as between a man and a woman was defeated, the first rejection of such a measure. Although Arizona still prohibits same-sex unions by statute, the amendment's defeat was considered something of a breakthrough. The state's voters were not as forward-thinking on immigration issues, however, favoring English-only for most government business and limiting some benefits to illegal immigrants.
In South Dakota, voters rejected a proposal that would have banned abortions in almost all circumstances except to save a pregnant woman's life. State legislators and anti-abortion activists who supported the law had hoped it would be used to seriously challenge and perhaps even overturn Roe v. Wade in the courts. But its harsh restrictions, including no exceptions for rape or incest, were rightly considered too extreme and led to its defeat, 56 percent to 44 percent.
Although conservative views weren't quite as dominant on ballots, they hardly disappeared; for example, some forms of affirmative action were banned in Michigan. But, overall, ballot initiatives proved not to be the hot buttons they were two years ago. This is a welcome development, especially because they often make bad law.