Marriage and death 

The fate of same-sex marriages is still in the hands of the states because the Senate tried and failed last week to create a new amendment to the Constitution that would prevent such marriages in the United States. The House of Representatives is supposed to try the same thing, but most people think it’s most unlikely that two-thirds of the members of Congress would ever vote for it, which is what is required for Congress to send an amendment to the 50 states.

Arkansas Sens. Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor voted no to the amendment as did all the Democrats except two — Robert Byrd of West Virginia and Ben Nelson of Nebraska.

Forty-five of the states, including Arkansas, have already passed varying laws that say neither men nor women can marry someone of the same sex. Our state’s constitutional amendment is very complicated in that it would not even allow things called “civil unions” or “domestic partnerships” that are allowed in several of those 45 states.

Seventy-five percent of Arkansans voted yes for a state amendment in 2004. It was passed in every one of the 75 counties. The most enthusiastic against same-sex marriages were in Randolph County where 85 percent of voters said yes. The most voters who voted no were 35 percent in both Pulaski and Desha counties.

Associate Editor Doug Smith of the Arkansas Times did some research to find who was so seriously against same-sex marriages. He wrote that conservative black preachers helped persuade 69 percent of blacks to vote yes and conservative organizations like Jerry Cox’s Marriage Amendment Committee and Shaun Whybark’s organization spent $250,000 and got thousands to sign the petition to get the amendment on the ballot. Marvin Parks, who was running against Rep.Vic Snyder, was a booster for the amendment, and he ran an advertisement that showed two men pushing a baby carriage.

Then there was the election of a president on the same ballot. Rather than voting for liberal Democrat John Kerry, 55 percent of Arkansans in 2004 voted for President Bush, many because they knew that the president was opposed to same-sex marriages. And, of course, most old people voted yes because they simply don’t like change. It’s interesting that 58 percent of Arkansas voters between 18 and 24 years of age voted no. And while it’s unrelated it’s curious that the three states that had the most votes against same-sex marriages — Kentucky, Mississippi and Arkansas — had more divorces than any other states in 2003.

Arkansas’s biggest newspaper, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, was opposed to the amendment, but it was largely because its editorial writers thought it was so poorly written that it might cost a lot of money. But one of its editors, Meredith Oakley, wrote a column that said that “voting against it (the amendment) would preserve the great American tradition of upholding the rights of individuals.”

As for me, I don’t understand in the United States why it’s really anyone’s business who marries whom. Canada, Belgium, the Netherlands and Spain feel the same way.

Here’s some good news. The National Center for Health Statistics has announced that in 2004 in the United States there were 50,000 fewer deaths than in any year in the last 60 years. (The number in 2005 hasn’t been calculated yet.) The number of Americans who died in 2004 was 2,398,343, a 2 percent drop from the 2,448,288 deaths in 2003.

Arkansas also had a good report in 2004. Dorene Harris, a statistician in the Health Department, says that 27,531 persons in Arkansas died in 2003. This was the lowest number since 1944 when there were only 14,226 deaths reported. However, Mrs. Harris said that this could not be exact because back then there were different processes in collecting the number of deaths and World War II was still going on.

Gayla Nooner, another Health Department statistician, said that 925 Arkansans per 100,000 persons in the state died last year. It surprised me that Arkansas’s figure per 100,000 citizens was higher than the 801 per 100,000 death rate in the United States in 2004. But she and Harris told me that there were usually more deaths in Arkansas than in many other states.

That’s some bad news.



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