A wave of ballots to ban gays and lesbians from adopting have hit at least 16 states in the USA.

Efforts to pass laws are underway in Ohio, Georgia and Kentucky where gay marriage has already been banned.

“Now that we’ve defined what marriage is, we need to take that further and say children deserve to be in that relationship,” Greg Quinlan of Ohio’s Pro-Family Network, a conservative Christian group, told USA Today.

In Florida gays and lesbians cant adopt but can be foster parents. Mississippi doesn’t allow gay couples to adopt but gay singles cant. Utah prohibits all unmarried couples from adoption.

Richard Carlson, a professor at South Texas College of Law in Houston, believes adoption laws based on judgments of morality offer “a weak argument” and will face legal challenges. He cites U.S. Supreme Court rulings striking down bans on interracial marriage and sodomy, which reflected prevailing views when enacted. The high court has not taken up a state ban on gay adoption.

Social conservatives see family as the next battleground after passing marriage amendments in 11 states in 2004. They supported a bill introduced this month in Ohio that would ban gays and lesbians from adopting or raising foster children. They vow to put it on the ballot if the bill fails. Patrick Guerriero of Log Cabin Republicans, a gay political group opposed to marriage and adoption limits, calls the strategy the next step by conservatives.

Observers feel the Republicans may use the adoption issue to deflect attention and draw out conservatives in close Senate and governor races in states such as Missouri and Ohio, says Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, University of Southern California political scientist.

Julie Brueggemann of gay rights group PROMO (Personal Rights of Missourians) said the aim is to replicate 2004. She said marriage initiatives mobilised conservative voters in 2004 and helped President Bush win in closely contested states such as Ohio. Republicans “see this as a get-out-the-vote tactic.”

Republican pollster Whit Ayres is sceptical, ” Adoption doesn’t have the emotional power of the gay marriage issue because there is no such thing as the phrase ‘the sanctity of adoption.'”