SAN FRANCISCO — A giant rainbow-colored flag in the gay-friendly Castro neighborhood of San Francisco was flying at half-staff on Wednesday as social and religious conservatives celebrated the passage of measures that ban same-sex marriage in California, Florida and Arizona.
In California, where same-sex marriage had been performed since June, the ban had more than 52 percent of the vote, according to figures by the secretary of state, and was projected to win by several Californian news media outlets. Opponents of same-sex marriage won by even bigger margins in Arizona and Florida. Just two years ago, Arizona rejected a similar ban.
The across-the-board sweep, coupled with passage of a measure in Arkansas intended to bar gay men and lesbians from adopting children, was a stunning victory for religious conservatives, who had little else to celebrate on an Election Day that saw Senator John McCain lose and other ballot measures, like efforts to restrict abortion in South Dakota, California and Colorado, rejected.
“It was a great victory,” said the Rev. James Garlow, senior pastor of Skyline Church in San Diego County and a leader of the campaign to pass the California measure, Proposition 8. “We saw the people just rise up.”
The losses devastated supporters of same-sex marriage and ignited a debate about whether the movement to expand the rights of same-sex couples had hit a cultural brick wall, even at a time of another civil rights success, the election of a black president.
Thirty states have now passed bans on same-sex marriage.
Supporters of same-sex marriage in California, where the fight on Tuesday was fiercest, appeared to have been outflanked by the measure’s highly organized backers and, exit polls indicated, hurt by the large turnout among black and Hispanic voters drawn to Senator Barack Obama’s candidacy. Mr. Obama opposes same-sex marriage.
California will still allow same-sex civil unions, but that is not an option in Arizona and Florida. Exit polls in California found that 70 percent of black voters backed the ban. Slightly more than half of Latino voters, who made up almost 20 percent of voters, favored the ban, while 53 percent of whites opposed it.
Julius Turman, a chairman of the Alice B. Toklas L.G.B.T. Democratic Club, a gay political group here, said he called his mother in tears when Mr. Obama won the presidency, only to be crying over the same-sex marriage vote in a different way not much later.
“It is the definition of bittersweet,” Mr. Turman said. “As an African-American, I rejoiced in the symbolism of yesterday. As a gay man, I thought, ‘How can this be happening?’ ”
Proposition 8’s passage left only Massachusetts and Connecticut as states where same-sex marriages are legal, though both Rhode Island and New York will continue to recognize such ceremonies performed elsewhere. Civil unions or domestic partnerships, which carry many of the same rights as marriage, are allowed in a handful of states. More than 40 states now have constitutional bans or laws against same-sex marriages.
On Wednesday, five months of same-sex marriages in California — declared legal by the State Supreme Court in May — appeared to have come to a halt. “This city is no longer marrying people” of the same sex, Gavin Newsom, the mayor of San Francisco, announced at a grim news conference at City Hall, where hundreds of same-sex couples had rushed to marry in the days and hours leading up to Tuesday’s vote.
The status of those marriages, among 17,000 same-sex unions performed in the state, was left in doubt by the vote. The state’s attorney general, Jerry Brown, reiterated Wednesday that he believed that those marriages would remain valid, but legal skirmishes were expected.
The cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco, and Santa Clara County, as well as several civil rights and gay rights groups, said on Wednesday that they would sue to block the ban.
Some opponents of the proposition were also still holding out slim hopes that a batch of perhaps as many as four million provisional and vote-by-mail ballots would somehow turn the tide.
The victory of the social and religious conservatives came on a core issue that has defined their engagement in politics over the past decade.
The Rev. Joel Hunter, an evangelical pastor in Florida, said many religious conservatives felt more urgency about stopping same-sex marriage than about abortion, another hotly contested issue long locked in a stalemate.
“There is enough of the population that is alarmed at the general breakdown of the family, that has been so inundated with images of homosexual relationships in all of the media,” said Mr. Hunter, who gave the benediction at the Democratic National Convention this year, yet supported the same-sex marriage ban in his state. “It’s almost like it’s obligatory these days to have a homosexual couple in every TV show or every movie.”
Supporters of the bans in California, Arizona and Florida benefited from the donations and volunteers mobilized by a broad array of churches and religious groups from across the ethnic spectrum.
The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, a pastor in Sacramento and president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, said the campaign to pass Proposition 8 had begun with white evangelical churches but had spread to more than 1,130 Hispanic churches whose pastors convinced their members that same-sex marriage threatened the traditional family.
“Without the Latino vote,” Mr. Rodriguez said, “Proposition 8 would never have succeeded.”
Frank Schubert, the campaign manager for Protect Marriage, the leading group behind Proposition 8, agreed that minority votes had put the measure over the top, saying that a strategy of working with conservative black pastors and community leaders had paid off.
“It’s a big reason why we won, no doubt about it,” he said.
Proposition 8 was one of the most expensive ballot measures ever waged, with combined spending of more than $75 million. Focus on the Family and other religious conservative groups contributed money to help pass the same-sex marriage measures in all three states.
Forces on both sides viewed California as a critical test of the nation’s acceptance of gay people, who have made remarkable strides in the decades since the 1969 riots in New York at the
Stonewall Inn, considered the beginning of the gay rights movement.
Scholars were divided on how large a setback Tuesday’s votes would be for that movement. Andrew Koppelman, a professor of law at Northwestern University and the author of “Same Sex, Different States,” a study of same-sex marriage, said the outcome had a silver lining, namely that it was closer than in previous statewide measures.
A 2000 ballot measure establishing a California state law against same-sex marriage passed with 61 percent of the vote. That law was overturned in May by the State Supreme Court.
In Arizona, where same-sex marriage was already against the law, the victory for Proposition 102, which amends the State Constitution, was met with a shrug by some.
“I think the country was like, ‘Look, you get Obama, call it a day and go home,’ ” said Kyrsten Sinema, a Democratic state representative who led opponents against Proposition 102. “And frankly, I’ll take it.”
Jesse McKinley reported from San Francisco, and Laurie Goodstein from New York for the NY Times.