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Originally published Sunday, November 2, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Divisive social issues on state ballots

Social issues so volatile that the presidential campaigns sidestepped them will be on the ballots in several states next week, including measures that would criminalize most abortions, outlaw affirmative action and ban same-sex marriage in California, one of only three states that allows it.

The Associated Press

On state ballots

Arizona: Ban same-sex marriage; require that any initiative involving spending or tax increases be approved by majority of registered voters, not only those casting ballots.

Arkansas: Create state lottery; ban unmarried couples from adopting or being foster parents.

California: Ban same-sex marriage; authorize high-speed rail; require parental notification for a minor's abortion; create 14-member panel to draw state legislative districts; require utilities to generate 20 percent of their power from renewable energy by 2010; ban cramped metal cages for egg-laying hens.

Colorado: Define human life as beginning at fertilization; ban race- and gender-based affirmative action; prohibit mandatory union membership and mandatory union dues.

Florida: Ban same-sex marriage.

Maine: Repeal new taxes on beer, wine and soda.

Maryland: Authorize slot-machine gambling.

Massachusetts: Ban dog racing; repeal state income tax; decriminalize possession of an ounce or less of marijuana.

Michigan: Allow medical use of marijuana; allow research on donated embryos created for fertility treatments that otherwise would be discarded.

Missouri: Make English the official language of government proceedings; require state to produce 15 percent of its electricity from clean energy by 2021.

Montana: Provide government-funded health coverage for as many as 30,000 uninsured children.

Nebraska: Ban race- and gender-based affirmative action.

North Dakota: Cut income-tax rates by 50 percent for individuals, 15 percent for corporations.

Ohio: Allow state's first casino.

Oregon: Create open primaries that independents can vote in; limit teaching of students in language other than English to no more than two years; tie teachers' pay and job security to "classroom performance."

South Dakota: Ban abortions, except in cases of rape, incest and serious health threat to the mother; eliminate term limits.

Washington: Allow physician-assisted suicide for terminally ill people.

Source: The Associated Press

Social issues so volatile that the presidential campaigns sidestepped them will be on the ballots in several states next week, including measures that would criminalize most abortions, outlaw affirmative action and ban same-sex marriage in California, one of only three states that allows it.

In all, there are 153 proposals on ballots in 36 states.

Massachusetts has three distinctive measures on its ballot: to ban dog racing; ease marijuana laws; and scrap the state income tax, a step that could unleash budgetary tumult.

The main presidential rivals, Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain, have rarely made proactive comments during the campaign about same-sex marriage or affirmative action, issues on which the public is divided.

Abortion also has seemed like an uncomfortable topic for them, although Obama makes clear he supports abortion rights and McCain says he would like to ban most abortions.

In six states, these three issues are front and center.

Florida, Arizona and California have constitutional amendments on their ballots that would limit marriage to a man and a woman.

More than 24 states have previously approved such amendments, but none was in California's situation: with same-sex marriage legal since a state Supreme Court decision in May and thousands of gay and lesbian couples already wed.

The rival camps view the California vote in epic terms, with the outcome of Proposition 8 having enormous influence on prospects for same-sex marriage rights in other states.

"If we lose California, if they defeat the marriage amendment, I'm afraid that the culture war is over and Christians have lost," said Donald Wildmon, founder of the American Family Association.

Gay rights also is an issue in Arkansas, where a ballot measure would ban unmarried couples from adopting or being foster parents. Conservatives backing the idea say it's aimed at same-sex couples, who are able to adopt and be foster parents in most states.

Abortion is a dominant campaign topic in South Dakota, which has an initiative that would ban the procedure except in cases of rape, incest and serious health threat to the mother.

A tougher law without the rape and incest exceptions was defeated in 2006; a recent poll on the new version showed a dead heat.

Colorado has a "personhood" amendment on its ballot that would define human life as beginning at fertilization.

It doesn't mention abortion, but activists on both sides view it as a challenge to abortion rights.

Some of those skeptical of the idea believe it would run aground in legal challenges. Abortion-rights activists contend it would — if approved — potentially lead to the banning of certain types of birth control.

Colorado and Nebraska have proposals that would ban race- and gender-based affirmative action, similar to measures previously approved in California, Michigan and Washington.

The man organizing the movement, California activist-businessman Ward Connerly, said the candidacies of Obama, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Sarah Palin prove blacks and women no longer need affirmative action.

"Anyone who raises $150 million in one month is being judged pretty much on the basis of their political abilities and not on the basis of race," Connerly said of Obama during a debate in Nebraska last week.

On the more unusual end, a proposal in California deals with the care of farm animals, such as pregnant pigs.

Proponents are arguing for regulations ensuring the animals have enough room to stand up, similar to measures that Arizona and Florida have approved.

Another in Massachusetts would repeal the state's income tax, which pays for about 45 percent of the state's annual budget.

Among scores of local ballot questions, one of the most provocative is in San Francisco, where Proposition K would decriminalize prostitution. Proponents say it would free millions of dollars spent annually by police arresting prostitutes; opponents — including the mayor and police department — say it would embolden pimps and hamper the fight against sex trafficking.

Information from the Chicago Tribune is included in this report.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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