George W. Bush has won the US presidential election after a cliff-hanger battle in which gay and lesbian issues featured prominently.

Bush’s strong showing was also a victory for conservatives across the country, as 11 states voted on whether to amend their constitutions to ban gay marriage. All 11 voted strongly in favour of the amendments.

While broader concerns such as the economy and national security were high on the agenda during campaigning, opponents of Bush argued he used gay politics as a wedge issue.

Former president Bill Clinton announced on Sunday the Republican Party was using Kerry’s views on gun control and same-sex unions to divide Middle America, Reuters reported.

Referendums on amending 11 state constitutions to ban gay marriage were also criticised by gay rights activists as a divisive tactic to boost a conservative turnout on election day.

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force said the amendments would hurt tens of thousands of families.

The results underscore why we have a Bill of Rights, Taskforce executive director Matt Foreman said. Because it is always wrong to put basic rights up to a popular vote.

During the election campaign there were reports of dirty tricks at polling booths, such as Republicans posing as Democrats holding signs in support of gay marriage and abortion. And the Detroit Free Press reported Bush supporters were also using automated phone calls to spread the message: A vote for Kerry is a vote for gay marriage.

Gay activists have said a Republican victory equalled bad news for gay rights in the United States. Bush has opposed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Bush also opposes extending federal hate crimes law to include sexual orientation. Bush supports the US military don’t ask, don’t tell policy and said he does not believe in adoption for gay couples.

Kerry had pledged to double AIDS funding to Africa and, on his campaign website, vowed to end the HIV travel and immigration ban to the US.

Meantime, three openly gay members of the US Congress -“ Democrats Barney Frank and Tammy Baldwin and Republican Jim Kolbe -“ were re-elected yesterday.

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