Social Issues Shake up the Ballot Box

When Barack Obama was elected president two nights ago, his speech promised that “the best is yet to come” for America. The results of the election certainly proved that the United States are moving towards a new social standard, settling into the twenty-first century. Obviously the question who would be the next President dominated the national and international news, but on a smaller scale, steps towards a more open-minded and socially inclusive America were taken. Wisconsin elected the first openly homosexual senator in Tammy Baldwin; a disabled, female war veteran got the vote for the 8th congressional seat of Illinois (Tammy Duckworth); and two GOP-representatives who had recently shamed victims of rape were defeated in their races.

Image courtesy of Barack Obama, © 2012, some rights reserved.

Amongst the big issues like the economy and foreign policy, a lot of smaller social issues received less media coverage, but some found their way onto ballots in their own right. The fact that these issues were up for a vote and were taken so seriously by the voters is proof that the citizens are ready to stand up for their beliefs. They are a nice reminder that, in a time when the US voter is often seen as apathetic and disinterested, the people do care and can make informed choices.

Some of the most important results came from Maine, Washington and Maryland, where gay marriage was made legal. Washington and Maryland had passed bills making it possible for gay couples to marry earlier this year, and found these legislative efforts affirmed on election night, while Maine asked whether its ban on same-sex marriage should be overturned (and it was). Popular support for same sex marriage has been steadily growing over the last few years, but initiatives supporting gay marriage have had trouble getting the required votes in a number of states. These results from Tuesday seem like a historic step towards equal rights for the gay community and should bring the subject back into focus on the national level.

Another subject that went unnoticed by a lot of media, but was on the ballot in a number of states, was the legalization of Marijuana. Colorado and Washington voted to legalize and tax the recreational use of Marijuana for people over 21, while Montana will see its laws regarding medicinal marijuana upheld and reformed. Oregon also had recreational use on the ballot, while Arkansas voted on the medical use, but both of these initiatives did not get enough popular support.

Two other issues, widely discussed during President Obama’s term, were also up for vote last night: abortion and voter ID. In Florida, US citizens were able to vote on whether or not to restrict abortion by outlawing its public funding, but decided against the measure. Minnesota’s Voter-ID law suffered the same fate, when voters decided that people should not have to present photo identification to cast their vote. Both of these results can surely be seen as victories for the Democratic Party and for advocates of civil rights.

It remains to be seen to what degree these popular votes can transfer from the smaller, state level, to the bigger picture of national legislation. The Obama campaign has until now, for example, been opposed to recreational Cannabis use and isn’t likely to change its position because two states want to see it legalized. But as Art Way of the Drug Policy Alliance of Colorado said, these votes may well be a starting point for the rest of the nation. The same can hopefully be said for the other issues that were decided on Tuesday.

Important social changes took place and with a large number of people paying attention to and voting in these ballots, it seems like social issues really are at the heart of the Nation. High interest in these questions and their results show that America is on the track to social change. It may start from the bottom, with a simple answer to a short question, but the U.S. has proven time and time again that local initiatives and ideas can grow into big phenomena that shape the policies of the future. A number of states took small, but important steps regarding a number of social issues on Tuesday; hopefully, it is only the beginning.

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