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Election transforms states’ social policies

November 7, 2012


National advocates for same-sex marriage rights and drug decriminalization scored major victories on Election Day after Maine and Maryland became the first states to approve same-sex marriage by popular vote and Washington and Colorado legalized the recreational use of marijuana.

Maine and Maryland became the seventh and eight states allowing same-sex couples to marry. Maine’s referendum reversed a 2009 law enacted by its legislature banning same-sex marriages.

Also, Washington lawmakers previously passed a law allowing same-sex marriages, but a signature campaign forced the issue to the statewide ballots Tuesday. As of press time, more voters had cast ballots approving the initiative, but results were not yet certified.

In another victory for gay-rights supporters, Minnesota voters defeated a constitutional amendment which would have banned same-sex marriages. Similar measures have been approved in 30 other states, most recently in North Carolina in May.

As for drug referendums, Colorado’s Amendment 64 allows adults over 21 to possess up to an ounce of marijuana but bans public use. Also, the new amendment allows residents to grow up to six marijuana plants. Colorado voters passed the amendment by approximately 220,000 votes.

Washington’s Initiative 502, which was passed by approximately 200,000 votes, legalizes and regulates the sale of small amounts of marijuana to people 21 years and older. The measure establishes state-licensed growers, processors and stores and also creates a standard blood test limit for driving under the influence.

In Oregon, a similar referendum was defeated at the polls, while Massachusetts voters approved a measure allowing marijuana use for medical reasons. Arkansas voters defeated a similar medical-use ballot initiative.

Marty Wiseman, the director of the John C. Stennis Institute of Government and Community Development, said these states’ decisions to set their own drug and same-sex marriage policies show the 10th Amendment is alive and well in the U.S.

“We’ve heard a good bit of whining over the last two or three years on the part of states’ rights supporters to have a movement and restore the 10th Amendment, but you now see states taking a whole lot of initiative in using the 10th Amendment. These decisions show it’s not a dead letter in the U.S. Constitution,” he said. “In some cases, the pendulum is swinging into places we’ve never seen before. I think what we’re seeing is that the Libertarian approach — “as long as it doesn’t hurt me or anybody else, it’s OK” — is successful right now. Also, these decisions could reflect a strong anti-big government push. Many states are loosening the taboos of the past. In the not-too-distance past, we use to avoid doing things and assume others should, too, (in relation to state laws).”

While various social referendums found Election Day success, voters in Missouri and Indiana defeated two Senate candidates who recently drew public criticism for their comments on crisis pregnancies and abortion issues.

In Indiana, Democrat Joe Donnelly defeated Richard Mourdock in the state’s U.S. Senate race. With local Tea Party support, Mourdock defeated six-term incumbent Sen. Richard Lugar in May’s state Republican Primary. Also, Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat, held off her Republican challenger, Todd Akin.

In October, Mourdock said he believes life begins at conception, but “… life is that gift from God that I think even if life begins in that horrible instance of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.” He would later clarify his comments, saying “God creates life, and that was my point. God does not want rape, and by no means was I suggesting that he does.”

Like Mourdock, Aikin’s August comments on pregnancies following rape also drew criticism. In an interview with a St. Louis TV station, Aikin said, “First of all, from what I understand, that’s really rare. If it’s legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something. I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child.” He would also apologize for his remarks later in a statewide commercial, saying “In reviewing my off-the-cuff remarks, it’s clear that I misspoke in this interview and it does not reflect the deep empathy I hold for the thousands of women who are raped and abused every year.”

Although voters rejected the candidates, U.S. Rep. Gregg Harper, who won re-election yesterday against a third party challenger, said pro-life issues are still paramount to the two states’ conservative voters.

The electorate rejected insensitivity, not conservative values, he said.

“The losses by Aikin and Mourdock really had nothing to do with faith or pro-life issues as much as they had to do with they simply said stupid stuff. They said things that were not right, and (voters) rejected them. Missouri and Indiana are very strong pro-life states,” he said. “Those candidates, they should have known better. It doesn’t change the fact that if we don’t stand up for the life of the unborn child, who will?”

Wiseman agreed with Harper’s analysis but also said voters are beginning to take more and more issue with laws which attempt to legislate morality.

“We saw that at work with Mississippi’s ‘personhood’ amendment. It got out far enough to the point where it scared even conservative people,” Wiseman said. “Any time you try to legislate morality … it doesn’t mix well. It’s become kind of off limits when they start taking things that are religiously based and try to make them a law.”

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